Long Journey Results in Degree from Tri-C for 80-Year-Old Student
December 11, 2015
Two thousand miles from her childhood home in Guatemala and 80 years into life, Jenny Ortiz will graduate from Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) and fulfill her father’s long-ago wish.
Ortiz will receive an Associate of Applied Arts with a concentration in sociology at Tri-C’s Fall Commencement on Thursday, Dec. 17.
“My ambition was to finish, like my father wanted,” Ortiz said. “I had to do it.”
Her walk across the commencement stage caps an academic journey measured in decades. She remembers her father, Perfecto Ortiz, pushing for her “to attend university” while growing up in San Raymundo, Guatemala.
Ortiz studied midwifery and became an elementary school teacher in her hometown. In 1966, she decided to come to the United States to work and learn English.
She intended to eventually return home to teach the language to children in her native country. Years passed, though, and she remained in Cleveland working as a health aid and caregiver to local families.
In 1992, Ortiz took her first class at Tri-C. She began in the College’s English as a Second Language program to hone her speaking skills. Ortiz attended Tri-C’s Eastern Campus in Highland Heights.
She soon began taking other classes, enrolling as her budget allowed. Ortiz enjoyed being on the campus, interacting with other students and perfecting her second language. She dove into her studies, too, carving out time between work and raising her son.
“Always, I did my homework at night, after work,” she said. “I knew it was important.”
She worked toward her degree class by class, semester after semester. Ortiz — who now lives in Shaker Heights — said she kept focused on her graduation goal throughout her 23 years at the College.
“Never say you cannot do something,” Ortiz said. “Anybody can do whatever they want if they truly want to do it.”
Ortiz said she is excited for commencement. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment,” she said. Her son, Julio Cesar Ortiz, is traveling from Guatemala to attend the ceremony and hear her name called.
After graduation, Ortiz said she may return to her native Guatemala for a few weeks. She still wants to help children in her native land.
However, she’s also not ready to leave the classroom. Ortiz intends to look into attending a local college — she mentioned Cleveland State University and John Carroll University — to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Her father would be proud.