She returned fourteen years later to campus, the place that she had first come to without direction, and where through hard work she found her writer’s voice, the key to her future as a novelist.
Maria del Toro, author of two women’s fiction novels that focus on strong female characters, shared her story with students, faculty, and former classmates during the Lang Lecture Series at Kreider Hall on May 29.
Del Toro came to GCC when she was 18, the first in her family to continue education beyond high school.
“It was a very scary time; I didn’t know what I was doing here,” she said. “I signed up for a full load of classes and managed to fail every single one of them. Not because I couldn’t do the work, but because I didn’t do it. I had never been a stellar student before.”
The following semester, administration placed her on academic probation.
“I didn’t tell anyone what I had done because I was embarrassed. I had failed big time,” said del Toro.
Little by little she raised her GPA until one semester she got all A’s and was on the dean’s list.
“Raising my grades was a pretty huge accomplishment,” del Toro said. “But I still had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I didn’t know what I was doing beyond working toward raising [my grades from] that first semester.
“I eventually met with an academic counselor, something I suggest everyone do a lot sooner .” she said. “You don’t always have to shoulder it on your own; there are people here who will help you.”
Three credits short of completing her certificate in child development, she switched to a major she enjoyed more, sociology, which she thought about pursuing after college. She didn’t want to take care of kids at $6 per hour.
At this point, she had to drop her algebra class she wasn’t doing well in, and take another class to maintain a full-time status. On her sister’s recommendation, she chose Mass Communications 101 with Professor Mike Eberts.
After completing the class with an A, Eberts encouraged her to join El Vaquero. Del Toro was planning to quit school and begin working, but she accepted his invitation.
“It was a decision and invitation that changed my life,” said del Toro.
“You can mess up, not have a plan, but every decision you make leads to something,” she said. “Once I joined [El Vaquero], it all fell into place for me.”
Among those at the lecture were her mother, husband, and former professor, Mike Eberts, coordinator of the humanities/social science lecture series and professor of mass communications.
“It’s a teacher’s dream come true that not only they go on and use something that you’ve taught, to some effect,” said Eberts, “but then the person goes off and is a great success. Maria is a role model. She truly is.”
Bart Edelman, professor of English, sat in the crowd, listening to his former student.
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” he said. “I am terribly proud of students who go out and come back and she has done a lot of writing and it’s remarkable.”
Dolores Blackburn, former classmate for two semesters at El Vaquero, said she hadn’t seen del Toro since she left for San Francisco, but knew of her success.
“She did well with her column [at El Vaquero],” Blackburn said. “She used to write the quirky, funny, interesting stuff. I wanted to be like her.”I’m just thrilled because I know her talent. She writes so well and she’s just fun. It has to be just as fun to read her books.”
After the lecture, del Toro signed books before attending a luncheon on campus in her honor with faculty, administrators and others.
Del Toro walked away from campus with another set of memories to look back on.
“It was nice to just be able to acknowledge the people who had made a difference and impact on my life,” she said. “I knew I had to do it because GCC was my stepping stone to going on to get my degree in journalism. If I could share that with someone who might be on the fence or questioning if it’s worth it, I wanted to show that it is and that all the work and stress will pay off one way or another.”
Veloris Lang, former language arts chair and administrator, started the Lang Lecture series nine years ago. The Tuesday night free lectures she attended at Stanford University, one of the best memories she said she had, inspired her to create a similar experience for students.
“The purpose for having speakers come to the college is for student enrichment beyond the classroom,” said Lang, who began the Lang Lecture Fund when she retired after 34 years of service at the college. “The perspective on some area of someone’s life work, and the position they’ve taken in their life, can serve as some sort of inspiration for the students ..”