Speakers overcome adversities, share stories


By Ashley Escobar

As the 2023-2024 school year comes to an end, many students celebrate the end of an era. However, for co-commencement speakers Vania Esparza and Carlee Garrison, it means the start of a new journey. 

Applied science major, Esparza, first found her passion when she was chosen as an ambassador of Texas for SkillsUSA when she first began at AC. This organization works to empower students to become skilled professionals and career-ready leaders. “Now I am always up here AC East Campus thinking about ‘What can I do?’ and ‘What can I learn?’” she said.

However, Esparza said life has not always been kind to her. Coming from a disadvantaged background, she has faced alcohol and drug challenges, as well as an abrupt point of homelessness in the middle of a school semester. Through campus resources, such as the counseling center and the food pantry, along with the immense support of her instructors that she was able to juggle school, stay clean and sober and confront her challenges. “It has been a ride and I am really thankful that I am here right now,” Esparza said.

Her favorite project has been her building of a tiny house, saying that she is proud of her tap and texture work, but most importantly her ability to branch out and explore other trades and learn new skills. As of now, she is currently in the process of growing her own business with the help of her connections and networks at Amarillo College. “This whole journey has one of my favorite chapters in my whole book,” Esparza said. “I can’t really pinpoint a favorite memory but just being here with all the other students and just having fun, even while goofing off now and then.”

Although Esparza is still in the midst of figuring out her speech for the 3 p.m. ceremony, the one thing she said she is sure of is how much Amarillo College positively impacted her through her education and personal life. “My plan was to get in and get out; get in and graduate and then get out and start my own business,” Esparza said. “And it just didn’t happen that way.”

With 1,265 graduates set to walk the stage this spring, Business Technology major, Carlee Garrison is set to speak at the 7 p.m. ceremony. “I am really blessed to be in this position,” Garrison said.

Garrison said that her time in highschool was never really steady as she was in and out from ages 15 to 16, until she had finally decided to drop out. She didn’t end up at AC until she was 23. Her story, which uniquely shaped her position today, began when a teacher picked her up from a park and encouraged her to go and get her GED. That same teacher supported her through every step of the way, and it was through that constant encouragement, even from the badger community, that she was able to receive her GED after her first semester at AC. 

Today, she is looking to transfer to a four-year university and stay within the business realm; all in hopes of building her career to a masters and then doctorate degree in business administration. “There is not one person that I have come across that has ever discouraged me in any way,” Garrison said. “I definitely feel the love and support and I feel like that’s what has really really pushed me to continue forward. Knowing that I do matter and that all the students here matter and we are all moving towards the same goal has really helped me.”

Currently, Garrison is the president of the Future Billionaires Club. Her club, which is new to campus, aims to help students at Amarillo College mold into the best person that they can be through professional development, mock interviews and resume workshops. “Go to the student life events, go to the fairs, just anything that you see hosted out there, definitely just go there because you never know who you are going to meet.”

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