Finishing college took a lot longer than I expected – 20 years actually! At first, I was uncomfortable telling people that I was graduating with my bachelor’s degree. I thought they might wonder why it took so long or what I was waiting for. Would they think it was strange that I was graduating at the same time as my son?

But I knew I wanted to do this, for both myself and my two boys. I wanted to have a bachelor’s degree because I knew it would allow me to grow professionally and open the door to better opportunities.

I’m the first in my family of 12 to attend and graduate from college, but this wasn’t my first experience with higher education. I earned an associate degree after high school and began taking classes towards a bachelor’s degree. But marriage and family put that on hold. Having young children at home wasn’t helpful to pursuing higher education, especially after a divorce.

But as my kids grew up, I knew that I needed to return to the classroom. I had been working for Cochise College, and the roles I most wanted were only available to college graduates. Plus, I wanted my kids to know that if I could do it, so could they.

The first semester was tough. I’d been out of school for decades and it seemed as though everything had changed. There was new technology and I wasn’t used to learning online. But I adjusted and the two years went by in a flash.

Now that I have my Bachelor’s, I’ve been offered a role as a Scholarship Navigator with Cochise College. It’s a role that I hold near to my heart, since I was able to secure scholarships and graduate debt-free. There are so many ways to help pay for college and I’m looking forward to helping students find them.

Graduating at the same time as my oldest son is really icing on the cake. He completed an associates degree in Sociology and plans to continue at University of Arizona and pursue a career in social work. I’m so proud of his hard work – he graduated with a 3.89 GPA and was involved with the honor society, Phi Theta Kappa. He might not have envisioned graduating with his mom, but he thinks it’s a cool, unique story to share. His younger brother Dominick is a few years behind him, and I can’t wait to see where he goes. He also is also an honor roll student and has been a Diamond Scholar recipient several years.

I’m so grateful that I took the opportunity to complete my degree. And graduating at the same time as my son has made the experience so special. I hope that both of my sons see how important education is and that anything is possible if you work hard.

Angie Castillo, a lifelong Douglas resident, graduated this May with a Bachelor’s Degree in Regional Commerce from University of Arizona. Her son, Francisco, graduated from Cochise College at the same time.