June 2, 2006
Mike Stepanovich, 661/654-2456, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or Jaclyn Loveless, 661/654-2138, email@example.com
At her sickest Patti Sturges weighed 80 pounds. The petite California State University, Bakersfield student wasn't obsessed with the way she looked. She was trying to cope with what life had thrown at her.
Sturges, a 43-year-old single mother of three, has spent a great deal of her life dealing with some tough circumstances. But on Saturday, June 10, she will become the second woman to ever graduate with a triple major from the campus, and she's ready to take on any challenges headed her way. And it might be all thanks to a little push from a longtime friend and her supportive family.
The Bakersfield native got married when she was 18 and had her first child two years later. "My son Jacob was my best friend," she said glowingly. "My two beautiful daughters" Kimi and Missy soon followed. Sturges worked from home the next few years to be with her kids. However, her family life would soon change.
As a result of emotional hardships including family deaths and childhood sexual abuse Sturges developed the eating disorder anorexia in her late-20s and battled with it for eight years. In addition she was dealing with a divorce. "In retrospect the depression was so bad the whole process of chewing and swallowing was too much for me," she said. Her three children were teen-agers at the time. "It was very scary to my kids."
Thankfully she had fellow CSUB student and friend Lori McMinn to lean on. Sturges met McMinn at a Halloween party in eighth grade and has remained friends with her ever since. "My best friend took over my eating responsibilities and made sure that I ate," Sturges said. "The Catholic guilt in me made me realize that if I didn't eat I would be basically lying to her and my family."
Faced with her health at stake Sturges took back control of her life. "It was so frightening; I realized I had a problem," she said firmly. And she was going to do something about it.
Sturges sought counseling, went back to school, and the once shy, reserved student now shares her story about her struggle with anorexia. "I wouldn't be sitting here today if it weren't for Janet (Millar, CSUB counselor). I'm still going through counseling," she continued. "Janet is amazing. She talks to you right on your level. She let's you go at your own pace. She doesn't try to rush you and she's given me this opportunity to speak.
"Janet was asked to speak to an abnormal psychology class and asked me if I would go and talk to the students. She'd tell the clinical part and I would tell the personal perspective. Since that talk three years ago, I have spoken at least once a quarter on the issues of sexual abuse and anorexia in both abnormal psychology and human sexuality classes. Once I went to Liberty High School and spoke to two health classes and I've also spoken to a Girl Scout troop. I was so scared but it was amazing and so therapeutic. Overall it's been a really good experience. The students ask such good questions. I still get nervous but I'm always happy I did it. By sharing my story, I hope to encourage other people to realize that they are not alone and that it is possible to find happiness after trauma."
Millar said Sturges is an inspiration to her, and hopes she is to others. "Patti is a remarkable woman," she said. "She is one of many survivors who utilize their spirit and determination to overcome trauma and thrive. Patti has a unique ability to continue to take steps toward the future, a bit unknown, even when she wants to stop."
It has taken this political science, English, and psychology major seven years to get where she is today. So what made her decide to keep going? "I went for two quarters in 1996 and started full time in 1999," she said. "I started out wanting to be an English major. Although I was completely uninterested, a general education requirement forced me to take political science. Professor Kent Price helped bring me out of my shell and encouraged me to speak in class. He showed me that it was OK to express my opinions and have ideas of my own. I give him a lot of credit. I thought it was so interesting and before you knew it, it was silly to not be a major. Then working through all of my issues from my childhood I became interested in psychology. Then I decided to major in that also so that I could become a therapist eventually."
Price feels Sturges will be successful in her endeavors. "I have known Patti for nearly four years. When I first heard that she was graduating with a triple major I must say that I was not surprised," Price said. "Patti has always performed well in the classroom and is not afraid of responsibility. She possesses extraordinary maturity. I can recall having several discussions with Patti concerning which major she should pursue. She would always say the same thing, ‘But Professor Price I like them all and I just can't decide.' She is perhaps one of the most intellectually curious students I have ever had the privilege of teaching.
"In addition to her intellectual curiosity, she is an excellent writer. Patti is patient, charitable, compassionate, honest, and hard working. Perhaps one of her best qualities is her ability to get along with all types of people. … I am so pleased that I was a small part of her academic success. Whatever Patti decides to pursue in the future she will be successful. She has the skills to succeed not only in the classroom but well beyond. She will be a fine representative of CSUB."
She even plans to come back for more. Sturges wants to earn her master's in counseling psychology and a single-subject teaching credential in English. Someday she may even go for her doctorate. "I really want to write a children's book," she said. She hopes to collaborate with her children to help with the artwork and writing. "It's such an outlet when I work on my children's book. I get to be carefree and I love being creative – love every bit of it."
Through this whole experience Sturges has really learned a lot about herself and her capabilities. She admits now she has no secrets and she has nothing to be ashamed of. And to be the first to graduate from college in her family means a lot to both her and her family. "I have been so lucky to have been supported and encouraged by so many people in my life," she said. Sturges will get to share that special day with her longtime friend McMinn, who is also graduating.