When Graciela Villa dropped out of San Jose State University, she thought she was done with higher education.
Then along came her son, a little boy named Adan. And everything changed.
"I had to go back," she said. "I can't tell him to go to school one day if I never finished myself."
Graciela was one of more than a dozen Delta College CalWORKs students, many of them moms like her, who decorated their commencement caps this week as part of an end-of-the-year celebration. The photos and messages that now adorn their caps are more than simple expressions of happiness or excitement. Each cap tells the story of a graduate-to-be and the challenges each had to overcome.
Graciela's cap shows her parents, who migrated from Mexico over 40 years ago, and a photo of Adan, now 3. Graciela will become the first of six siblings to finish college next week.
An aspiring lawyer and proud Latina, Graciela combined those passions on her cap: "Lawtina." She is about to earn an associate degree in psychology and will transfer to the University of the Pacific in the fall.
"It's been difficult," she said. "There were a lot of late nights. In the morning I'm a student, in the afternoon I'm a parent, and late at night I'm still doing homework. But it will be worth it."
Her son is her biggest fan. "At first he didn't like it," she said. "I would be doing work instead of playing with him. He would say, 'Mom, put the book away, close the laptop.' Now he tells me, 'Mom, do your homework.' It's pretty funny. He doesn't know it yet, but he's the one I keep doing this for.
"I want to teach other women that just because you're a single parent doesn't mean that your world is ending. This is just the beginning of a new chapter."
Vivian's cap prominently displays her daughter, Valentina, along with several phrases that are important to her: "First generation," "Saved by grace," "Feminist" and "Latina on the rise."
"I'm proud of my roots. I want to better the name of Latinas," she said.
The sociology major used to be a hairstylist but as a single parent knew she needed more for her daughter.
"Going back to school is something I wanted to do but didn't think I could, honestly," Vivian said. "But somehow it's happening. I have a 3.0 GPA, which I never had in high school."
Valentina isn't old enough to understand how important next week's Commencement is to her family. But she knows something special is about to happen. "She keeps saying, 'Congratulations, Mommy,'" Vivian said.
If it hadn't been for her son, Haven, Sesilie likely never would have gone back to school. Now she's about to earn a degree in accounting.
"It's just me and him," she said. "I had to do it. I had to show him you can do it. You can be both mom and dad."
She decorated her cap with the words, "I did it 4 my baby shark." Adan loves the wildly popular "Baby Shark" videos on YouTube.
He also loves school, which makes Sesilie optimistic about the future.
"Keep loving it," she tells her little baby shark.