Courtesy of Jan Janes from Gavilan College:
Returning from three combat missions in Iraq, Raymond D. Lopez Jr. arrived at Gavilan College in the summer of 2014, ready to make changes. In May 2019, he graduated with an ADT in health science, two AS degrees in LVN and RN, an AA in communications studies and additional certificates.
A Hollister resident with family in the area, Lopez could have attended a big school like San Jose State University but chose Gavilan as the place to start. “I didn’t have a car, didn’t want to go to a big city right away,” he said. “Plus I knew a bunch of people who attended Gav, and the RN program is highly esteemed.”
He took the bus to school, enrolling in two accelerated summer classes, communications and nutrition, both prerequisites in Allied Health.
“They looked interesting, and I always wanted to go into the medical field,” said Lopez, citing numerous family members in the area who worked in emergency services and a local hospital.
“There was not one instructor that didn’t have an effect on me, my drive,” said Lopez.
He cited Linda Stubblefield, first year nursing instructor, as inspiring. “Her personality was so uplifting, and students need that from time to time,” he said. “I was moved by her presence, and she was a great teacher that kept us moving.”
The communications class with Ellen Waddell was a surprise. “I didn’t know I was going to fall in love with it,” said Lopez. “I just thought it would be an extra class for units.” He discovered an affinity for the material, observing how much it helped with everything else.
“In nursing, you need to deal differently with each person.”
Lopez also credited communications instructors Denise Besson and Kelly Glass for their teaching and passion. “It was a shock to me that someone could be so passionate about communications,” he said. “They helped me get my dual degree, graduating with a double major.”
Counselor Carla Velarde-Barros helped him navigate to the Associate Dean of Disability Resources, Fran Lopez, who introduced him to the Veterans Resource Center. “It was our little place to get together, hang out, talk about military adjustments,” he said. The group expanded activities to include family gatherings. Later, Lopez would take on a leadership role, fundraising during the annual Walk a Mile program to raise money for family services and women’s shelters.
On May 24, Lopez graduated twice. First in the RN pinning ceremony, later in the college-wide graduation program. “I didn’t know there were two speakers, and I voted for Rosemary Sanchez,” he said. Lopez was also chosen by his peers to speak.
In his speech, Lopez identified the challenges that nursing students face. “I wanted to focus on the students, what they sacrificed,” he said. “The program doesn’t compare to combat experience, but it takes a toll on you in other aspects.”
Of the original 25 students enrolled in his RN cohort, 19 graduated. “In the program we were all challenged, put to the test,” he said. “The program can break you. You can have some real setbacks.” He remarked that all the students were mentally challenged, and they became strong working through failure and supporting one another.
“Being a military veteran on the GI bill, I can go to school without having to work full time,” he said. Other students pursued grants, scholarships, worked and took care of their families. “For vets, to pursue their education, it’s a gift we shouldn’t take for granted.”
Lopez began CSUMB classes in summer 2018 and will return again in July for more open enrollment studies. This fall he enters their BS nursing program, may explore psychiatric nursing, with plans to graduate in spring 2020.
His dream job? To be a nurse at a Disneyland park. “My wife and I are Disneyland fans,” Lopez said. “It takes us back to our childhoods.”
“Imagine working at the place you love, visiting whenever you want, and helping people at the happiest place on earth.”