SONORA -- From high school dropout to college graduate, Michelle Towns has taken advantage of all the programs Columbia College has to offer.
Not only is she among nearly 200 Columbia students graduating tonight, but she's also lost 50 pounds through the community college's fitness classes.
At 15, Towns left high school. She just didn't like it. But after years of working retail, telemarketing and fast food jobs, Towns was ready for an education.
"I grew up. It took me a while, but I grew up," said the 30-year-old. "I starting thinking, 'Do I want to be 40 years old one day, working at McDonald's?' "
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In August 2007, she started classes at Columbia, studying business and computer applications. Her associate degree is in science and occupational education with an emphasis in applied computer studies and business. She hopes to find a job in an IT department or in customer service.
Returning to school was intimidating, but Towns pushed through it.
"I always say of the blood, sweat and tears, it was mostly tears for me. I cried a lot, but I passed everything," she said.
Going back to school was a life-changing experience, and Towns said she wanted to change other aspects of her life. She enrolled in gym classes to exercise more and learn tips about healthy living. She has dropped 50 pounds, and hopes to lose an additional 30.
Although Towns' parents were not happy she dropped out of high school, she said they are proud that she finally will have a degree.
"I'm not a quitter, and that makes them more proud," she said. "And I'm making myself proud."
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.