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For Elliette Teague, this year’s walk across the WGU Texas commencement stage will be a journey started in 2003 with a walk away from the small farming village in the Philippines, where she was born and raised. “I grew up in a very poor and very rural area where people never leave the village. I wanted more,” she recalls of her life 120 miles south of Manila, in Lipa City, Batangas. So she moved to California with a simple goal: “I wanted a better life. Mostly, at first though, I just wanted to survive.”
She got a work visa and rented a room in someone’s house for almost $600 a month. She found a part-time retail job across town selling mattresses. Each day she caught the bus part way, then walked 30 minutes, then caught a second bus, and repeated the trip each night. She tried to learn English, quickly. As customers came in to buy bedding for their new home, Elliette would ask them what they did for a living. “They would say IT, advertising, working in finance. They all told me they went to college. I looked at them and thought, they are not that different from me. I can have this life if I can go to college.” Elliette lived paycheck-to-paycheck, which sometimes made even getting to the Laundromat a challenge, often hand-washing her clothes in the sink.
A few years into her time stateside she moved to Texas, finding a similar job in a department store. “I was glad for the work, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life earning $8.50 an hour,” she says. “I wanted to realize my dreams. I wanted to get a car. I wanted to have a great job and get promotions and have my boss recognize me.” So Elliette enrolled in a university. The for-profit school was expensive, and Elliette quickly became increasingly concerned about the debt they were accruing. “I love to learn, and I want to move ahead, but I am scared of this the debt will accrue to more than $80,000 by the time I graduate at this rate.” She decided to stop. Then a friend suggested she look at WGU.
“WGU Texas is perfect for me. I like that WGU was formed by 19 governors who cared about people like me in their states. WGU Texas has high standards and a low price that’s what I need.” She enrolled and was assigned a mentor. Mentors work one-on-one with the same student from enrollment until graduation, building a strong relationship that supports the student academically and emotionally. “I have to say,” Elliette explains, “that I owe at least half of where I am today to my mentor. He would call and find me overwhelmed with work, keeping the house, and doing homework. He would always encourage me to stop and look at how far I’ve come. He told me, ‘Ellie look where you are, look how close you are now,’ and I’d take another assessment and earn another little star for myself,” she says. “I have to work very hard in this program,” she explains. “In Asia, it is very different. You just memorize things. Here I need to understand and visualize these concepts on a larger scale. I read and research and do a lot of writing. I will succeed, failure is not an option. I’m earning my bachelor’s degree. I want to wear that cap and gown and walk across that stage!”
Today Elliette is in her last term, only a few months away from wrapping up her bachelor’s degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing. She looks back on the journey with a quiet amazement, “Look at me. My father was a farmer. I have seven brothers and sisters. Here I am in the U.S., attending WGU Texas and I work for the world’s number one tech company where I am a service expert helping customers. My English gets better and better thanks to all the reading and writing I do as part of my studies. I have a great life, and a great husband. I even have a new car,” she speaks quietly, getting a little choked when she considers how far she’s come.
She spoke at the launch of WGU Texas in September and was able to share video of her speech with her family recently. “My brothers and sisters told me they hope their children grow up to be like me. That made me smile. I tell the children to reach for their dreams. No matter where you are, don’t give up…don’t give up on what you want to do in life. That’s what worked for me there was an opportunity, and I grabbed it. And now, here I am so close to the finish line.”
Elliette Teague became a U.S. citizen in 2010.
Watch Elliette speak at the WGU Texas Launch.
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