Defying Expectations

  • BY Cal State East Bay
  • June 3, 2016

When Cal State East Bay senior Veronica Navarro was a junior in high school, she was told she would never graduate college, would have to live in a group home and would be working “in the back room” the rest of her life. 

But none of that is true.

Instead, on June 11, Navarro, a liberal studies major with a minor in special education, will walk across the CSUEB commencement stage and receive her diploma.

The daughter of two doctors, Navarro, 24, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child. It affects her speech and some muscle movement.

Growing up, she took both special education and general education classes and participated in both the Special Olympics and recreation and school sports teams.

These days, Navarro is an outspoken proponent of inclusive education, which she experienced as a child and studied at CSUEB as an adult. Inclusive education is the idea that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighborhood schools, and are supported and participate in regular classes and activities like Navarro did growing up.

“People sometimes tell me, ‘Oh, you did well in general education because you’re high functioning,’” she said. “But even if I wasn’t, inclusion would still be important and still valuable.”

After graduating high school in 2010, Navarro attended College of San Mateo, earned her associate's degree and graduated with honors. She then transferred to Notre Dame de Namur University in nearby Belmont, but the school wasn’t the right fit, and she ended up leaving in 2015.

That could have been the end.

But a teacher at College of San Mateo encouraged her to apply to CSUEB through the Open University program and Navarro was accepted. Her dream of graduating and becoming a special education teacher were once again made possible, yet she was hesitant.

But as her mother drove her across the San Mateo Bridge for her first day in Dr. Ann Halvorsen’s special education class, she imparted a lesson on her daughter that Navarro said she remembers as if it had happened yesterday.

You have to try.

“My mom said to me, ‘You’ve got to at least try, no matter how scared you are, you have to try,’” Navarro recalled.

And now, a year later, Navarro said she’s glad she listened because the minute she walked into her first class, she felt included and respected.

“I felt totally at home,” Navarro said with a huge grin on her face. “I thought to myself, ‘Here is somebody that believes in inclusive education like I do’ and at that moment I realized I could do it.”

Halvorsen said she’s confident Navarro’s “can do” attitude will carry her through life beyond CSUEB. 

“Veronica is a determined and very intelligent young woman who is learning more every day about how to take charge of her own future and make plans that will support her goals,” Halvorsen said.

In the coming months, Navarro wants to volunteer in schools throughout the Bay Area and talk to teachers and students about her personal experience with inclusive education.

 “[Inclusion] offers the best outcome based on more than 30 years of research,” she said. “As a kid, I was bullied, I’m not going to sugar coat it, but I was included.”

She may pursue a teaching credential to eventually work with high school students, but until then, she’s eager to finish the children’s book she’s writing about cerebral palsy called “Cerebral Palsy Party” and will continue updating her blog AZ is Amazing about living with a disability.

And she’s going to soak up the satisfaction of defying the expectations that were set for her all those years ago.

“Yeah, I’m proud,” Navarro said of graduating. “I’m really proud.”