By Andrea Vasquez
Like many college students in 2020, Veronica Capozzoli struggled with completing her classes online due to COVID-19. As a hands-on learner, a biology dissection lab online presented its challenges. But she met them head on, just as she has with any obstacle that’s stood in her way. In Aug. 2020, she accomplished something that she never imagined would be possible- she graduated with a college degree. Another barrier broken along a journey that began being alone and homeless on the streets of Chicago.
Even her graduation milestone was unprecedented, being San Jacinto College’s first virtual commencement ceremony. But she took it in stride just being overjoyed that she was officially a college graduate.
“I’ve been through a lot of difficult things in my life, and I haven’t let any of them stop me from getting where I am today,” Capozzoli said. “This was just another bump in the road, and I am proud of what I achieved.”
For Capozzoli, this degree meant a future, something no one could take away from her. It meant the start of opening doors for other foster youth like her. Having grown up in group homes, a date loomed over her head with each passing year. Two weeks after her 21st birthday, she aged out of the system. That day, the facilitator of her group home grabbed a box of garbage bags and told her she had until 5 p.m. to pack her things and leave. That night she was homeless. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, everything became about surviving.
The next 10 years were filled with ups and downs, and sometimes the dark corners that seem impossible to escape.
“I had no one,” she said. “I had a pretty bad downside. I attempted suicide multiple times. I didn’t think I deserved to live or to be anything- and then I did.”
Within that time, she had a job selling magazines door-to-door across the U.S. It was then Capozzoli said she found God, her self-esteem, and for the first time the belief that she was worth something.
“I learned more about life just by the people that were put in my path while I was traveling the country. My whole life I had a negative outlook about myself, but I always had a positive outlook on life. I always knew the glass was half full, but I just felt that I didn’t deserve it. The people I met along the way I believe were put there for a reason. They showed me that I was somebody, that I was smart, and that I deserved the life I wanted for myself.”
What she didn’t know was that her uphill climb was about to get steeper. In 2016 she moved to Houston and not even a year later lost everything to Hurricane Harvey. Determined to continue on her new, positive path, she started rebuilding her life piece by piece from scratch. With the help of friends and community members, she was able to successfully get back on her feet. Finally, in 2018 she decided to enroll at San Jacinto College, which she says changed her life. She was making A averages in all of her classes and joined the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society. In addition to the genuine friendships she made, Capozzoli said PTK showed her what she was capable of and gave her a new confidence not only about herself, but for the personal and educational goals she suddenly found herself planning for.
This past Christmas, she celebrated another milestone- the purchase of her very own home.
“Getting my degree has redefined me and the legacy that I’m going to leave,” said Capozzoli. “It has given me the confidence, encouragement, and the drive to do something to help other young adults out there like me. I want to help the youth in the system that are getting ready to age out, the ones who have nothing and no one. Because of my education and the bridges I am building, I have plans for an independent living program for young girls who are wards of the state. It will teach them the basics about how to live a life as an adult, and it’s going to be taught by someone who lived that same life and experienced it the hard way- not the corporations or the system. Someone who IS them, who defied all odds, and who refused to become a statistic.”
Today Capozzoli is majoring in criminology at the University of Houston- Clear Lake and will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in 2022.
For more information about former and current foster youth resources at San Jacinto College, visit sanjac.edu/student-services/student-support/student-support-resources/foster-care-alumni.