September 6, 2006
Mike Stepanovich, 661/654-2456, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or Jaclyn Loveless, 661/654-2138, email@example.com
Yvette Ayonayon dreamed of going to college one day. She just never thought her dream would come true virtually over night.
Now, thanks to her friend Margaret Dennis, a retired school administrator, Ayonayon will attend her first college class next Tuesday at California State University, Bakersfield. And it happened so fast Ayonayon is still almost bewildered by it all.
Ayonayon's former boss at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office, Don Fowler, introduced her to Dennis three years ago. Over the years, she did personal clerical work for Dennis, never for pay, although Dennis would occasionally give her cash gifts.
"Last week," Ayonayon said, "Margaret said she wanted to repay me for all the work I've done for her. I was stunned. She made a commitment to fund my college education. That just kind of happened. She said, How would you like a scholarship?' I didn't know what she was talking about."
She almost fell over when Dennis handed her a check for $14,944. But she nearly fainted when Dennis told her that was just for the first year. Dennis has also deposited a check for $44,832 with the CSUB financial aid office to cover Ayonayon's next three years. The figures are based on the CSUB Financial Aid Office estimates of standard student budget allowances.
Dennis told her to see someone at CSUB; so Ayonayon asked her boss, Jose Cantu, whom should she talk to? He put her in touch with David Cisneros, director of the CSUB academic advising center.
"I told her that getting her bachelor's degree would be one of the best decisions she would ever make," Cisneros said. "I said if someone so gracious as Mrs. Dennis was willing to provide her a scholarship, she should take advantage of it."
After further discussion, Ayonayon decided that if she were to graduate in four years, she would need to attend CSUB fulltime, even though that would mean leaving her job of 14 years. While that was a difficult decision, Cisneros said, "I told her you're looking at your future career. She told me the only way she could see herself advancing was to go to school full time and get her degree."
Dennis is a retired educator, having spent 31 years as a teacher, counselor and administrator with the Bakersfield City School District. She graduated with her bachelor's degree from the University of Redlands in 1933, and from CSU Fresno with her master's degree in 1943. Her late husband, Al Dennis, was a long-time teacher at Bakersfield High School.
"I'm 94 years old and I just wanted to give back what I got at the University of Redlands," she said. "I was awarded a four-year scholarship to go there in 1929. I remember when I got the letter that I was going to get a four-year scholarship I felt just like Yvette did the other day I just glowed all over. This money will go to CSUB to cover her fees for four years.
"I just feel like my life has been so fortunate, and so many people helped me my whole life," she continued. "I just wanted to pay it back. I feel like I'm living this long for a purpose that's to help deserving people, and Yvette is just a wonderful person. She's like a daughter to me."
For Ayonayon life has suddenly become a blur. Cisneros, financial aid counselor Frank Ramirez and CSUB outreach director Steve Watkin are helping her through the application and enrollment process. Wednesday (Sept. 6) she took her placement tests. Friday she attends new-student orientation; on Monday she attends Freshman Convocation. And on Tuesday, she begins her college career. Dennis will join her on her first day.
A Vista High School graduate, Ayonayon is still trying to sort a few things out, like a major. "I have a whole weekend to decide," she said. "But I think I'll start out as undeclared. This is all so new I'm not sure what I want to do. I'm thinking about business I like accounting or humanities. I'm not sure what I want to do. Actually, I have no idea.
"I'm floating on a cloud right now," she continued. "I don't know what to expect. Over the (past) weekend I had to make some decisions. I'm thrilled, I'm ecstatic, I'm on an emotional rollercoaster. But I'm ready. I feel like this is a dream come true."