Student speaker Doraja Lake builds a new life at Tri-C
May 17, 2017
Doraja Lake clutched the steering wheel and focused on the highway while holding back tears. Disappointments littered her life. She thought of her failed marriage, her health problems and her unmet goals.
Then a voice sounded out from the passenger seat: “Mom, what’s going on with you?” asked her high school-aged son, Robert.
So Lake opened up and shared how she felt useless. Robert listened and then offered advice.
“You always talked about wanting to be a doctor,” he told his mother. “You should go back to school and do it. It’s not too late.”
That car-ride conversation in 2015 brought Lake to Cuyahoga Community College and turned her life around.
The 39-year-old Willoughby resident is graduating from Tri-C this month with academic honors and an Associate of Arts degree. Lake’s classmates selected her to serve as student speaker at Spring Commencement to tell her story of perseverance.
In the fall, she will begin classes at The Ohio State University to work toward a career in bariatric medicine.
“The world can beat you up sometimes,” Lake said. “I went through a period where I didn’t see any success and I fell into a negative pattern. Tri-C pulled me out of that, gave me confidence and made me believe. It changed the script of my life.”
The rewrite involved both mind and body. Lake linked many of her health problems — diabetes, high blood pressure, heart issues — with being overweight. So she revised her diet and began a rigorous exercise routine. To date, she has lost 90 pounds.
That life-altering experience convinced her to pursue a career in bariatric medicine. “I know what losing weight did for me,” Lake said. “Now I want to help other people get their lives back.”
Lake poured herself into her studies, too. She attended Tri-C’s Eastern Campus and took advantage of online classes, given a hectic schedule that includes a full-time job as an insurance agent and raising two sons — Robert, 19, and Anden, 9.
She’ll typically study late into the night and throughout the weekend to keep up with classwork. The work has paid off. Her GPA currently tops 3.7.
That’s the success she envisioned for herself when she first enrolled at Tri-C in 1997, a year after graduating from Euclid High School. She left following one semester after becoming pregnant and devoting herself to home and family.
Returning after so many years challenged Lake: “It was hard,” she said. “But I made a promise to my sons, to myself, not to quit.”
Throughout the month, we will be highlighting members of this spring's Tri-C graduating class. Click here to read more of their stories.