Hi, I’m Abygayl Aronjon Alvarez. I was 25 years old, and I had one last opportunity to pass the math section of the GED.
In 2001, the state of Texas was revamping their GED exam, which meant that I’d have to start over if I didn’t pass the math section.
It was a morning that I’ll never forget. I was nervous, I was anxious as I made my way to the TJC west campus. It was a place that I’d become all too familiar with.
I remember walking in and doing what I needed to do. I went and I handed the test proctor my receipt, and she handed me some paper and some pencils and a calculator.
It was probably the most gut wrenching two hours of my life. I felt great – confident but nonetheless nervous.
So the following Monday, I’m calling the GED headquarters in Austin. Ring…”How can I help you?” “Hi, my name is Abygayl, and I’d like to know if my GED exam has been generated? Has it been graded?” Well, Abygayl, can you give me your social?” I gave her my social and she says, “Let me put you on a brief hold.” We all love those brief holds – not really.
I remember she came back and said, “Abygayl, your test hasn’t been graded yet. Give us a couple more days.”
Of course, I never gave a couple more days. I was calling every day, and it actually got to the point where the receptionist in Austin recognized my voice.
So we would go through the same process day in and day out. One day, I called and to my surprise, I was getting a different answer.
“Hi, this is Abygayl. I was wanting to know if my GED exam has been graded.” This time, she had a different answer for me.
She says, “Abygayl, you failed by one point.” I started crying. I felt defeated.
I noticed that she was crying as well, which I thought, Why in the world is she crying? She says, “I’m so proud of you.”
That moment, I thought, You are so cruel for congratulating me. I mean, after all, I had failed by one point.
I said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “Abygayl, you passed the exam by one point.”
It was a feeling that I couldn’t put into words – even now. The first thing I wanted to do was tell my children, let my husband know that I had passed.
Let’s fast forward.
I started working as a lunch lady for Lindale ISD. And it was during that time that the Spanish teacher had told me that a substitute teacher position had become available. She said, “You know, you’re bilingual, that’s a great advantage. Why don’t you apply?”
So I did. And I’ll say I was a great lunch lady, but I made an even more awesome substitute teacher. I took every assignment seriously. I enjoyed teaching.
On a particular day, I had overheard that there was a teacher that was going to be out on maternity leave for six months, and they were looking for someone to fill that position.
So, I immediately went and talked to Theresa, the assistant to the principal. And I said, “Can you please consider me? I want to be considered for this long-term position.” And so I left it at that.
After a couple of days of not hearing back, I went back and I talked to Theresa and I said, “Theresa, have you heard anything?”
And she says, “Abygayl, we can’t give you that assignment.” I said, “Well, why not? I’m a great substitute teacher, aren’t I?” She said, “You are.” And I said, “You know, I have my GED. I mean, what more do you want?” She said, “That’s the problem. You only have a GED.” I said, “And?” And she said, “How do we know that you’re not going to quit on us?”
I said, “You know what, Theresa, I want to talk to Ms. Todd. I want to talk to the head honcho in charge. I want to see if I can talk her into giving me this long term assignment.”
So I walked into Ms. Todd’s office. She looked at me and she said, “I know why you’re here.” I said, “Well, Ms. Todd, why can’t I have this long-term position?”
She said, “Abygayl, you don’t have any college. You don’t have a teaching certificate. There’s no way I am able to justify giving you that assignment.”
I remember walking out and just feeling awful. I went home and I gave the most epic, over the top performance. I’m a little diva when it comes to rejection.
I told Isaias, I said, “Sit down – fixing to give you the performance of a lifetime. Can you believe Ms. Todd said that she couldn’t give me the substitute position, because I don’t have any college?” I have a GED. What more could they want?”
Isaiah looked back at me and he said, “You know, it’s not a bad idea. Why don’t you consider going to college?”
“Isaias, I already have a GED, had to work really hard at that. College? I don’t know.”
What Isaias didn’t know is that I would end up turning into a career student.
I can tell you all the reasons why I dropped out of school in the eighth grade. I can tell you all about being a wife and a mother, getting home from work and hitting the chemistry homework late into the night.
I can tell you about all the tears I shed, all the times that I started and stopped, all the barriers that I had to overcome.
Instead, let me tell you about Ms. Todd. She saw something in me that, at the time, I did not see in myself. The encouragement she gave me to pursue a college degree was something that I never thought would be possible for myself.
For the first time, I saw myself as an actual college graduate. I saw myself with a degree. I saw myself being able to provide for Isaias and the children. I saw myself being able to give my husband everything he’d given us up until that point, being such a great provider.
We got married when he was 21 and I was 15. Neither one of us had a clue about what we were doing or what we were embarking on. All we knew was that we loved one another.
Twenty-eight years later, it hasn’t been rainbows and cupcakes. It’s been a lot of hard work. It’s been a lot of compromise, and it’s been a lot of appreciation for one another.
Ms. Todd took a chance on me in spite of how broken I must’ve looked. In spite of all the self doubt that surrounded me, she continued to believe and continued to urge me to pursue college.
I find that I’m no longer that scared eighth grade dropout that is easily intimidated. I now walk with my head held high.
I praise God for placing Ms. Todd in my path.
Ms. Todd has been there when I graduated from TJC. She was there when I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science from UT Tyler, and I hope and pray that she’ll be there in September when I graduate with my Master’s in Public Health.
Abygayl Aranjon Alvarez has called Lindale, Texas, home for more than 20 years. She likes riding bikes with her husband, day trips to Tyler State Park, and advocating for people in her community, whether it’s public health issues or education. Abygayl and her husband of almost 30 years have three children together. She quips, “I’m fortunate enough that I live on my parents’ property and get to mooch off them. Whatever you think you know about me from this bio, you don’t. I love to shift people’s expectations about me.”
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