Abbie Navarrete, Free Minds ’07, graduates from ACC

When Abbie Navarrete walked the stage at ACC on Thursday after completing her A.A. in philosophy, “it was the culmination of a dream,” she says.

“As far as the degree process goes, that was done. I knew I’d pass my classes,” she laughs. “But my kids were at the graduation ceremony, and I could feel the presence of all my professors and classmates from Free Minds there. That was extremely important.”

The ceremony represented a lot of firsts for Abbie: a graduate of the inaugural Free Minds class of 2007, she is the first Free Minds student to earn a degree and the first in her family to graduate from college. She dropped out of high school at age 16 to start working and didn’t return to the classroom until she started Free Minds in the fall of 2006. “All it took was the opportunity, and since then I haven’t stopped.”

Abbie rejoices in being able to set the kind of example for her children that she lacked growing up. “If there had been someone, just one person, to pull me back when I was 16, to tell me I was smart, to say, ‘You want things, you have goals’… it’s hugely important,” she says. “I don’t think there’s a better thing to do than set an example. Even if my kids don’t share my joy in education, they know it’s important to follow goals.”

When she enrolled in Free Minds, her oldest son was struggling through his last year of high school, and later through his first semester at ACC. “It can’t be harder for you than for me,” Abbie told him; at the time, she was working full time and taking two classes. She helped walk him through the enrollment process and pushed him to keep at it, and he really started putting in the effort. “We all did homework together at the kitchen table,” she says, smiling. “My kids have easily been the biggest part of my own success.”

A self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Abbie says she knows with certainty that she will go on to work with kids and families to share the transformative power of education. “Every child should have an education,” she says. “I don’t want my experience to be theirs—to think you have no place in higher education because of who you are, what you look like, where you come from. We all have perspectives and life experiences that will enrich others’ education.”

Abbie will begin working toward her bachelor’s degree at St. Edward’s in the fall.

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