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A fresh start

Local completes intensive, 14-month program to earn nursing degree from Charter College

Posted: July 10, 2009 9:33 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Catresa Clark (not pictured) lets her daughter, Syrai Piper, 2, try on her graduation cap before ceremonies held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Friday.

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Catresa Clark, 34, always knew what she wanted to be.

"Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to do nursing," Clark said.

On Friday night, Clark finally realized her dream when she graduated with 20 classmates from Charter College's vocational nursing program.

A big part of the event at the Hyatt Regency Valencia was the pinning ceremony.

"It's a recognition, nurse to nurse, from one who's been in the profession to one who's coming in," said Anne Anderson, director of the vocational nursing program for the private career college in Canyon Country.

The nursing students receive a Charter College pin and a Florence Nightingale pin to honor their achievements.

For Clark, the intense 14-month program - which offered the chance to "just get my education faster" - was the culmination of a dream, but making it through those 14 months was something of a nightmare.

Starting classes in May 2008, she discovered during her second term there were problems with her financial-aid paperwork.

By July, unable to pay for her education, Clark was kicked out of school.

"I felt that was wrong," Clark said.

Determined to succeed, she called Charter College every day in the hopes of reaching an administrator.

Clark reached President Raelene Vanek, who met with her and re-enrolled her in school, Clark said.

But the obstacles didn't stop there.

That September, her relationship with her boyfriend fell apart and she moved back home to Canyon Country as a single mom with a 2-year-old daughter.

Then in December, she lost her job in advertising after five years.

"When is it going to end?" Clark recalled thinking.

Through it all she kept up with the "grueling" course work. The intense schedule meant switching off between day and night classes, all while tending to a 2-year-old daughter.

"I went through four day cares because of scheduling," she said.

She said she maintained her focus through prayer and strength.

"I had to finish. That's all I kept saying to myself," she said. "I knew there was going to be a rainbow somewhere."

The rewards came Friday night, but Clark said she won't stop with her LVN certificate.

Once she becomes board certified, Clark hopes to start her job hunt to find a position at a Southern California hospital - and start paying off loans and getting experience for her next goal: becoming a registered nurse.

Clark said her daughter is her inspiration.

"(Having her) made me more focused, more determined," Clark said. "It made me want to go after my goals even more. It was all for her."

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