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John Peña

#177 John Peña, Class of 1974

I am a lifelong Coachella Valley resident who found my passion for business, education and public service at College of the Desert. Following graduation from Indio High School, like so many local students, I turned to COD to start my higher education. I went on to attend and earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree from California State University, Fullerton and then a law degree from Western State University, College of Law. From my earliest time in school, I knew I wanted to serve my community.

My company, John Peña & Associates, is a business and governmental relations consulting firm. My wife Sherry is CEO of Emerald Presidio, Inc., a family owned food service business that includes Desert Cities Catering.

My career in public service began in 1982 when I served on a school site task force with city and school district officials to locate school sites in the City of La Quinta. I was elected to the La Quinta City Council two years later and served as La Quinta Mayor from 1985 to 1986, during which time I also served as Interim City Manager. I was elected Mayor in 1988 and was re-elected to that position in 1990 and 1992 and served until 1995. I was then re-elected Mayor in 1997 and served until 2002.

During my time as an elected official I also served as Chairman of Sunline Transit Agency and was a member of the Executive Board during the time the Agency began the process to convert its fleet from diesel to clean natural gas, the first transit agency in the country to do so.

I am past Chairman of the Board, John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital. I am currently Chairman of the Board for the La Quinta Chamber of Commerce. Recently, I was appointed to serve on the Dr. Carreon Foundation Board whose mission is to enhance educational and leadership opportunities for Hispanic youth in the Coachella Valley.

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Jesus Palominos

#176 Jesus Palominos, Transfer to Cal State Fullerton

I always dreamed of a career in music but never thought it was possible, particularly because I am legally blind. Born in Indio, I spent most of my childhood years in the Coachella Valley and faced an uncertain future following high school. Pursuing my love of music and becoming a professional musician didn’t seem like a practical reality, but once I began classes at College of the Desert (COD), I was able to develop a true vision for a future life and career in music.

My professors really encouraged me to pursue the classical guitar, which I was so surprised and happy to hear after having so many doubts. And with the special program at the College for people with disabilities; including tutors, software, and magnifiers; it really helped me overcome my disability and go for my dream.

After completing basic courses at COD, I applied to California State University, Fullerton. I was told I would be perfect for their classical guitar program. Leaving the Coachella Valley for Orange County seemed scary at first, but it was, without question, the place I felt I was meant to be.

I earned my four year degree, and am currently close to completing my master’s degree. Following graduate school, I would love to come back to the Coachella Valley, open my own studio for kids and teach a guitar course at the college that gave me my start. I really want to give back, because the Valley is so fortunate to have an institution like College of the Desert. The College makes a difference in people’s lives, it made a difference in mine.

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Elizabeth Romero

#175 Elizabeth Romero, Transfer to UC Riverside

Growing up in Thermal, I always knew I wanted to give back to my community. But it was my start at College of the Desert (COD) that helped define my career and path to public service. After graduating from Coachella Valley High School, I knew my hometown college was the perfect place to begin my higher education. After receiving the core academic building blocks at College of the Desert, I transferred to the University of California at Riverside and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Public Service. I recently completed a Masters of Politics, Economics and Business from Claremont Graduate University.

While at College of the Desert I began working with then Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor Roy Wilson as a Youth Coordinator. I was later promoted to Legislative Assistant, where I focused on health and human services and served as the liaison between the Supervisor’s office, county departments and the community, particularly the Eastern Coachella Valley.

Education is truly a passion of mine. As President of the Riverside County Board of Education, my goal is to improve educational opportunities for students and families. The Coachella Valley is my home, and I want to see doors opened for everyone in our Valley.

Life and career have now come full circle for me. At the age of fifteen I began working as a Youth Promotora with Planned Parenthood and recently returned as Director of Community and Government Relations at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, Inc.

I am grateful to College of the Desert for opening the doors to higher education and a great career in public service.

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Tiffany Silva

#174 Tiffany Silva, Class of 1993, Transfer to California State University Los Angeles
(Computer Science, Foreign Languages, and General Studies)

I started my path at College of the Desert after taking time off after high school to save money for college. During the time off, I had my beautiful daughter. She became my reason for going back to school. I started out as a computer science major, planning on going to work in the computer field to help support my little family. I continued to take language classes as I loved to learn about foreign cultures. I decided to switch my goals and continue the language learning in order to teach high school French. Well, it ended up taking me four years to finish at College of the Desert. All this time, I rode the SunBus everyday for four hours with my little girl just to complete my degrees.

After receiving my AA in both Language Studies and General Studies, I transferred to UC Santa Cruz. I continued the Language Studies and received by BA in that field. I did switch my focus when going for the teaching credential as I fell in love with my daughter's kindergarten class. I returned to the COD campus to work with Cal State San Bernardino on my credential. I am now a first grade teacher and have been loving that for the past 18 years! Thank you, COD for setting me on my path!

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Aneta Cruz

#173 Aneta Cruz, Class of 2007
(Liberal Arts)

I often wonder what or who influences the path we choose to take in life and the decisions we make. Is it the obstacles that seem to occur so spontaneously and challenge us to be the best we can be? Or is it a multitude of people and their achievements we try to emulate? Perhaps there are as many answers as there are people in the world. For me, it was one singular moment that completely changed the direction of my journey.

In April 2007, only one month before graduating from COD, I thought I had my future planned out. With an acceptance letter from CSUSB in hand, I dreamed of joining the students of the Psychology Department and becoming…what exactly? Hmm. Not so planned out, after all. But it didn’t matter because that one single moment of clear lucidity which would change my destiny was about to happen. My epiphany came while I was reading William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” for my English Composition 1B. The story’s climax brought me to a state of complete awe and ushered in a flood of childhood memories. “I want to do that!” I remember saying to myself. “I want to paint with words, expand the limits of people’s imagination, make them live in different moments at the same time.” I have wanted to tell stories ever since I was a little girl growing up in the Czech Republic, with my nose constantly buried in a book. I admired the authors’ ability to portray an entire world within the four corners of a sheet of paper, and I wanted to be just like them. I wanted to write.

COD’s English Composition 1B revived my love for literature, and the college’s wonderful counselors helped me with all the necessary paperwork to change my major from Psychology to English. After graduating from the College of the Desert, I went on to earn my BA in English Literature and MFA in Creative Writing. And finally, as I’d promised myself, I became a published author. My debut novel, Heartbreak Hotel, was released in September 2013 by Black Opal Books Publishing, and my second novel, The Guardian, will be out in early 2014 by the same publisher.

My dreams don’t end with writing books, however. I learned from my experiences at COD that it is necessary to dream, and to dream BIG. My next big dream is to return to COD and pay it forward by teaching English and guiding others on their path to success.

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