Monday, June 11, 2018

After 16 years, Grossmont College student reaches graduation

Ricky German and President Abu-Ghazaleh
Born with cerebral palsy, just getting to campus every day was a major undertaking for Grossmont College student Ricky German.

On June 7, after 16 years of arriving at the college at 6:30 a.m. to make it to his classes on time and facing daily challenges that to most are a matter of routine, the 37-year-old business major finally accomplished his dream. 

German joined the 1,800 members of Grossmont College’s class of 2018 in a time-honored processional and the long-awaited tassel turn, signifying his status as a college graduate.

German’s academic progress was impeded by recurring hospitalizations and setbacks, but he remained steadfast in striving for his associate degree. 

“It has been really hard, fighting the challenges all these years,” German said in an email interview before the big day. “Sometimes, I’ve had to stay until 9 at night to make sure that I complete my homework. Even being hospitalized every year due to seizures, I’ve done what is needed to complete my assignments as requested by professors.”

Obtaining lecture notes, taking tests and talking to instructors – the sort of things that most students take for granted – pose an often insurmountable ordeal for people with the kind of physical limitations that German deals with every moment of his life. With only limited movement in his arms and hands, he relies on his electric wheelchair for mobility and depends on his caregiver to get him in and out of bed, to bathe him, and to help him eat and use the restroom. 

He rode the bus and sometimes the trolley to get from his home in Barrio Logan to Grossmont College, which meant getting up at 4:30 a.m. to ready himself for the two-hour commute to school. German said he lives near downtown San Diego because he enjoys the social life, and as a Padres season ticket-holder, living near Petco Park is a plus.

“I have an apartment I love right next to Chicano Park and I’m in the center of everything,” he said. “I have the ballpark in my backyard, Coronado Bridge to my right, a cultural park in my front yard and the night life is great. It is worth the trip.”

German’s zest for life and his resilience led counselor and instructor Pearl Lopez to nominate him as a Grossmont College Student of Note, an annual recognition of students who have overcome significant obstacles to obtain a degree or certificate. He was one of about 30 honored last month at an inspirational event paying homage to the students’ determination and courage.

Counselor Pearl Lopez and Ricky German

“Ricky is one of the most hard-working people I have ever met,” said Lopez, who has been German’s counselor since 2008. “His level of self-advocacy is amazing.  He does not let anything get in the way of his education.  Every semester, I would send his instructors an email in advance so that they could meet with Ricky to understand what his needs are.”

Community non-profit organizations such as La Mesa Community Living Services provide staff to help him with note-taking and homework.

“The Accessibility Resource Center  at Grossmont provides accommodations as well, but Ricky’s needs go beyond what most students need, and because of this, Ricky has had to become his own advocate in order to obtain the help he needs,” Lopez said about German, whose next mission is get into San Diego State University to get his bachelor’s.

 “Ricky’s greatest desire in life has been to graduate.  Any time we would talk about it he would light up and screams with joy.  I am honored to have worked with him for almost 10 years and I am overjoyed with pride that the moment is nearly here when he will participate in commencement.”

German was born in San Bernardino County and moved to Washington State with his siblings, mother and father, a serviceman in the Navy. His family urged him to move with them when they relocated to Florida, but German said he chose to stay in San Diego because his doctors are here and also, to complete his studies at Grossmont College. 

“Pearl has been a great counselor,” he said. “Whenever I reach out for her, she always makes time and makes sure I am on track with my education. She is the type of counselor that if I show up late in the day, she will stay to make sure my needs are met, no matter what.”

German said his first year at Grossmont College was so hard that he quit for two months, but he decided to return. 

“It’s been a long time, but I promised myself I wouldn’t ever give up again,” he said. “The day is almost here – June 7, 2018. I almost can’t believe it. Sixteen years and I am about to graduate. But I am not done, yet. This is only the beginning of my next journey.”

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