Mario “Danny” Pantaleon can still picture it: the sign on the elementary classroom wall announcing the year his class would graduate from a university.
“Seeing that during my adolescence helped me create that goal for myself,” he said. “My teachers also influenced me greatly. I fell in love with their passion for science, history, music and social studies. As a child, I wanted to be like them and for me, that meant pursuing higher education.”
There were other signs that college had shifted from a goal to a priority, says his sister, Elisa Pantaleon. “On every birthday, if we ever got money as a gift, we would have to put half of it into our college saver account; no exception,” she said. “My parents have always talked about college — in elementary school and all through high school. My mom modeled how important it was because she did it herself.
“I knew I felt, and still feel in a way, obligated to show them and to prove to them that their sacrifices were worth it,” Elisa said of her parents, Mario and Maria.
Their mother, Maria Barrientos de Pantaleon, started with an English as a Second Language class, then earned her high school diploma, her associate’s degree and later her bachelor’s degree in child and adolescent development from Cal State Fullerton.
At Cal State Fullerton this weekend, the Pantaleon trio walked to “Pomp and Circumstance” to receive their college degrees. Maria earned a master’s degree in education. Danny received a bachelor of science degree in child and adolescent development and Elisa received a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies — Chicano studies.
“To be able to share this milestone with my family in this way makes it more special for me,” Danny said. “I feel as though my mom has always led by example, and her continuing accomplishments give my sister and me no excuse to do anything but our best.”
The timing? Well, it just sort of happened that way, said the trio. And the simultaneous Titan experience helped them prepare for competitive fields.
Success comes from hard work to make the goal a reality, but it’s also the result of supportive mentors, real-world work experience, opportunities to study abroad and a nurturing faculty that cares about the success of their students, Maria said.
“My overall experience as a student was exceptional because of all the people involved at CSUF — from the clerk at the registrar’s office, the counselors who guide you, and the faculty who listen to your questions, to the president who signs your diploma.”
Like many CSUF students, the Pantaleons each juggled work and school schedules. Balance becomes “an art form,” and the support system of family and friends grows to include the CSUF family, Danny said.
“Each of my instructors helped me realize more and more of my potential as my college career progressed,” he said. “The energy my professors shared with me and my classmates engaged us and made higher levels of learning possible.”
When Elisa transferred from community college, she struggled with the writing requirements of the upper-division courses. A Chicano studies course with Julian Jefferies, associate professor of literacy and reading education, was her “wake-up call,” she said.
“I thought I knew how to write an acceptable college writing standard and he made sure I knew I wasn’t,” she said. “He pushed me to become a better writer and reader. Seeing how much he cared about my writing and succeeding in the course, made my experience at CSUF that much better.
“I feel very prepared to enter my career because of my Titan experience and the confidence I gained here.”
Elisa, who graduated Sunday evening, plans to travel briefly. But she will continue with her savings plan, she said, so she can return to CSUF in the fall of 2019 to earn a master’s degree in social work.
Danny worked as an instructional aid in a preschool classroom while finishing his coursework and is now looking for a full-time position working with preschoolers.
“Being able to bring real-world experience and knowledge to my classes helped me understand concepts better, while learning up-to-date methods and practices helped me serve my community in increasingly better ways. My CSUF education was being put to use even before I neared graduation,” he said.
Maria, a preschool teacher at King State Preschool, was selected by The Orange County Association for the Education of Young Children as the 2018 Preschool Teacher of the Year. She wants to earn her credential, work with children with disabilities and become a preschool mentor teacher.
“I feel I am a better qualified professional in the field because of all I have learned at CSUF,” she said. “I had hands-on training in my studies abroad — in Thailand, New Zealand, Costa Rica and Oaxaca. The diverse community in the classrooms and the support I received also made me a better student and a better preschool teacher. I am prepared to work with students of diverse communities.”