The moment she found out she was a soon-to-be mom at only 13 years old, Roseanne Rivera was convinced by her mother that her life was over. She was an honors student and cheerleader at school who damaged her reputation by getting pregnant before even starting high school.
If her life was really over, Rivera wouldn’t be a student here at PCC right now. She wouldn’t be the treasurer of the Honors Club, president of the Food Recovery Network, an academic support assistant at the Social Science Center, or a member of Lancer Pantry’s advisory committee. There’s also no way she would’ve completed the Honors Program, or have been awarded the Juan Lara Scholarship, the Farrer Memorial Scholarship, and the Summie Nakano Scholarship in Spring 2016.
Unlike what friends and family thought Rivera’s life would result to from her teen motherhood, she’s striving, and will continue to do so.
“I’d say the whole journey was a blessing in disguise,” Rivera said.
Born and raised in Santa Ana, Rivera is the oldest of ten siblings. The environment she grew up in was an underprivileged neighborhood; from the several gangs around her area, to her father and aunt being drug addicts.
“Whatever you think of when you hear ‘ghetto,’ that was all around me growing up,” Rivera explained.
Rivera got pregnant at 13 years old, refusing to have her son. Unfortunately for her, it was a law at the time for parents to sign an abortion consent form if the one who was pregnant was under 18. With her family being Christian, her mother refused. Before she knew it, her son Anthony Cook was born on July 22, 1994. Then, Rivera felt like she had two options left.
“I could’ve either wallowed in self-pity repeating about how much my life sucked at that time,” Rivera said. “Or, I could’ve kept pushing forward. I couldn’t be a star student anymore, so I chose to be a star mom.”
When she was 14, she got her first jobs as a flower arranger at a local flower shop and an associate at In-N-Out, while continuing to go to school. She was pleased with the little strides she was starting with as a teen mom, such as being promoted to a manager at In-N-Out, and graduating from a teen parent high school named Horizon in three years. Rivera quit her earlier two jobs to work at the Orange County Assessor’s Office, but shortly after, she changed paths and got involved with real estate, then moved to Huntington Beach.
“I lived with a beachside view, and I was making a huge income, so I was so sure I didn’t need to go to college when I felt like I had it all,” Rivera explained. “Well, so I thought.”
Stress crippled Rivera’s life when her father was murdered by a woman he had four children with. Rivera took it upon herself to adopt her them from her father as her children.
“I’m technically a mother of five with my biological son, plus my four adopted siblings,” Rivera explained. “I found my happy place when I was home with the kids.”
Rivera thought her income from real estate and having five, happy children were the only thing she needed in life, but as the kids grew up, her happiness couldn’t keep up.
Once she had to head to work, Rivera found herself in misery. To assure that it was her job making her unhappy, she drilled herself to record three times a day how she was at feeling at work for sixty days straight, and noticed a consistent pattern of distress. Immediately, she quit working in real estate, moved away from Huntington Beach, and ended up renting a room from her mother’s friend in Pasadena in December 2013, bringing along her son and one of her brothers.
With no job left, Rivera thought a place to restart her life was at PCC in Spring 2014, intending to complete one of the nursing programs. However, after taking an introductory psychology class in Fall 2014 with professor Monica Coto, Rivera immediately settled for pursuing an associate of arts-transfer in psychology.
Through their conversations before and after class about psychology, academic and career issues, and life in general, Professor Coto and Rivera saw so much in common among their different life obstacles.
“The fact that she is a woman of minority who grew up in the ghetto, is a product of community college, and ended up to where she is now is truly inspiring,” Rivera said of Coto. “I can’t believe I finally found someone to really relate to outside of my family.”
“Very much like Roseanne, I had other priorities besides school,” Coto wrote in an email. “My ‘extracurricular activities’ were jobs and family commitments.”
Taking both physical and cultural anthropology classes with professor Derek Milne is also one of the most memorable takeaways she has at PCC so far. It was because of his classes she won a scholarship at the Honors Transfer Council Conference held at the University of California Irvine, founded the Food Recovery Network at PCC along with the Lancer Pantry, and settled for a minor in anthropology.
Rivera is excited to continue her journey in academics before reaching her new career goal of becoming an occupational therapist for those with autism and down syndrome. After completing her associate of arts in Spring 2017, Rivera hopes to receive her bachelor’s degree in psychology at California State University of Fullerton. Onward, she would also like to receive her master’s degree in occupational therapy at the University of Southern California.
Not only has Rivera proven herself to overcome trials and find success in her academia, but her ambition is well-recognized by her former professors at PCC.
“She has resiliency that is driven by passion. Roseanne is a non-traditional student. She has significant family responsibilities,” Coto said. “She left a well-paying career to come back to school. I know many students may not understand the tremendous opportunity cost associated with that.”
Rivera also had a great connection with history professor Christopher West. He asked once when she was his student at the time, “what’s your five-year plan?”
“Five year plan?!” Rivera thought to herself. “Who plans ahead for five years, and for what?”
West then told her to outline what she was going to do in the next five years to reach any long-term goal she hopes to accomplish by the end of five years. Also, he told her to start everyday asking herself what to do to reach her goal in her five-year plan. By the end of the day, she needed to reflect with what she did that day to reach it, and from there, Rivera showed West her five-year plan.
From there, West recognized her dedication to excelling in her academics and beyond.
“When I first met her in my class, she was driven to succeed and often angst about ‘Was this the right choice?’ and ‘Can you do it?’” West wrote in an email. “She has over the years grown as a scholar, as an activist and as a human being.”
Rivera faced a series of obstacles, but she admits that nothing gets easier. She still needs to study for classes, while making sure her children are okay, even if they all live in Orange County.She found her path, and did not hesitate to share any part of her journey, in hopes to comfort someone else in the same situation.
“Someone will be reading my story right now who is going through the same thing, I need to share to let them know that whatever they may be going through is a speed bump along their road called life,” Rivera concluded. “Just keep swimming, because nothing comes to you right away, but remember that you have two options in front of you. The lazy road of pity, or the hard road of taking action.”