Of the more than 1,500 graduates being celebrated at Grossmont College’s June 7 commencement, few have overcome the kind of challenges faced by 50-year-old Cheryl Mahone.
Unable to walk and barely able to stand as her body yielded to the effects of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, Mahone kept pressing forward even after enduring two bouts of pneumonia and an encounter with the swine flu. Just getting to the El Cajon campus from her home in La Mesa meant a three-hour round trip aboard a special Metropolitan Transit System Access bus.
No matter. Mahone graduates with a 3.98 grade point average, an associate degree in social and behavioral sciences and a ticket to San Diego State University, where she will enroll this fall as she moves closer to realizing her dream of earning a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition and launching a career as a registered dietician working with the disabled.
“My attitude is, God gave me this body, so I’m going to do the best I can to keep moving forward,” said Mahone, who added she will forever be grateful for the help she received along the way.
“I couldn’t have done it without the people at Grossmont College,” Mahone said. “I was overwhelmed by the love and support I received as soon as I enrolled. They give you all that you need, everything from workshops for adult learners who are going back to school to a wonderful EOPS program to a tutoring center, a writing center, counselors. You name it.”
EOPS – an acronym for Extended Opportunity Programs and Services – is a state-funded effort that supports nearly 800 Grossmont College students with financial, educational and physical challenges, and Mahone embodies its success. “Hers is a remarkable story,” said Maria de la Cruz, an EOPS program specialist at Grossmont College. “Despite her physical limitations, she was not only able to earn her associate degree, but she was able to earn her associate degree with a nearly perfect grade point average. Cheryl defines what it means to be resilient and she defines what it means to be persistent.”
Her persistence and resilience led Mahone to be honored as a Grossmont College Student of Note during a May 19 awards ceremony, a program celebrating students who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve a degree or certificate.
Mahone’s ability to overcome adversity has left an impression on virtually everyone she knows.
“I never imagined as a counselor establishing a relationship with a student where I felt like I was being taught something,” said Michael Perez Jr., an EOPS counselor. “Over the past eight years, Cheryl demonstrated characteristics that inspired me to be a better person. After eight years of being her EOPS counselor, I am very excited for her next chapter to begin. I am certain she will continue to touch people’s lives at SDSU as she has here at Grossmont College.”
Born and raised in Cleveland, Mahone relocated to San Diego County after visiting a sister here more than a decade ago. “The winters in Cleveland were kind of harsh,” she said. “And when I saw how everything here was so accessible, I fell in love with the place.”
That was in 2005. A few years later, she was perusing through a San Diego State University class schedule when she came across the food and nutrition program. “I’ve always had a love affair with food, I’ve always loved cooking and preparing meals,” Mahone said. “When I saw ‘Food and Nutrition,’ all these bells went off in my head. So I gave them a call. They said my best bet would be to enroll at a community college and transfer, and they suggested Grossmont.”
She reached out to Grossmont College almost immediately, took an assessment test, spoke with the EOPS office, and met with the folks in Disabled Student Programs & Services (DSPS). In 2009, she was a full-time Grossmont College student who could be seen navigating the El Cajon campus daily along her power scooter, BiPAP machine in tow.
Eventually, though, Mahone had to pull back. That’s what happens when you’re living with a disease that eats away at your muscles in your hips and shoulders. That’s what happens when an especially debilitating bout of pneumonia leaves you relying on a continuous flow of up to five liters of oxygen per day just to survive. The challenges were so many that counselors worked with Mahone to revise her educational plan more than a dozen times.
Mahone, though, never complained.
“I’m really excited,” Mahone added. “It’s been a long road but I was determined to get there. With the help of my family, my neighbors and the good people at Grossmont College, here I am.”