More than 2,100 graduates will be receiving their degress and certificates from Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges in June. Here is the story of one graduate.
Jovonda Reina found her home at Cuyamaca College.
She found her home at Cuyamaca College after being shuffled around so often as a foster child that she attended three different elementary schools in the second grade alone. She found her home at Cuyamaca College after serving for six years as a petroleum supply specialist in the Army National Guard. She found her home at Cuyamaca College after an epiphany led her on a path toward a career working with teens beset by mental health challenges.
“I love the campus and I love the teachers here,” Reina said. “You really get to know your professors and they really get to know you. Everyone goes out of their way to make sure every student, no matter your background, feels at home and feels they are a part of the campus community. I can’t say enough about what Cuyamaca College has meant to me.”
Now she’s taking her associate of arts degree and the lessons learned at Cuyamaca College to San Diego State University, where Reina is aiming to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling.
Reina’s professionalism and achievements in the face of adversity landed her the honor of Student Speaker for this year’s Cuyamaca College Commencement June 8 at the Rancho San Diego campus.
Those who know her say no one is more deserving of the honor.
“Jovonda is a vivid and excellent representation of our students at Cuyamaca College,” said Claudia Cuz-Florex, a counselor at the college. “She demonstrates great maturity, self-determination, and great resiliency to overcome life adversities. She has not allowed statistics and hardships become obstacles, but instead utilized them as stepping stones to reach higher grounds. Those challenges have also converted into the motivation and drive to become a psychologist to help children and youth in foster care.
“Jovonda has a bright future and I am certain that she will excel and succeed in all of her professional goals and any other endeavor that she may seek to pursue.”
It has been a long and often trying, journey. After living with her grandmother as an infant, Jovonda was placed in the foster care system in her hometown of Norfolk, Va., bouncing around from home to home until her father took custody of her shortly after she turned 9.
“You’re constantly moving, constantly adapting, constantly readjusting,” Reina said. “It’s a difficult position to be in, especially when you’re so young and vulnerable.”
Shortly after graduating high school, she enrolled at the Naval Academy. Eighteen months later, she left.
“I was dealing with emotional issues from my youth, and it just wasn’t the right place for me at the time,” Reina said. Instead, she signed on with the Army National Guard, serving first in Virginia and then Texas. When her husband was assigned to San Diego, the couple moved out West. That’s when Jovonda discovered Cuyamaca College. She enrolled in the fall of 2016 and was able to graduate less than a year later in part because of an abundance of concurrent enrollment courses she completed while in high school.
“I’m just really grateful to have been a part of this campus,” said Reina, who has been active with the Cuyamaca College Psychology Club, attends every campus event she can and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. “I can definitely say that I found my home here. I feel like I’m totally prepared to go to San Diego State.”