Stamford man gets life lessons as adult high-school graduate
STAMFORD — When Juan Lopez realized he had to do more to help his father and brother pay the household bills, he dropped out of high school to work in landscaping.
It didn’t take long for the Guatemalan national to learn the decision would bring negative consequences. At times, he said, he had trouble communicating with his boss.
“I didn’t understand him very well,” Lopez, a native Spanish speaker, recalled in an interview this week.
Years later, he encountered similar problems relating to his first born.
“My son was trying to make conversation, but he would correct me, ‘No Daddy, that’s not the right way,’” Lopez said.
After some reluctance, the Stamford resident enrolled in the city’s Adult and Continuing Education Program at age 27 and attended evening classes for the next three years.
On Wednesday, he was one of nearly 50 students — ranging in age from 18 to 65 — to receive a high school diploma through the program. He also comes out of the program an award winner. The Connecticut Association for Adult and Continuing Education has named him a Learner of the Year, an award presented to five outstanding students across the state.
“I feel so happy that I made this decision,” Lopez said in an interview before the ceremony at Cloonan Middle School.
Number of graduates: 49
2004 ESL graduate
Now a partner in his family’s landscaping business, Lopez communicates well with his clients, but he also creates business proposals, invoices and other written documents.
The program, run by Stamford Public Schools, also offers the National External Diploma Program, which awards a high school degree through a combination of online and in-person classes; GED; English as a Second Language and other programs. On Wednesday, 22 students were recognized as ESL honorees.
Lopez, the fourth of seven children, was 13 when he moved to Stamford. He graduated from Scofield Magnet Middle School, then dropped out of Stamford High School his sophomore year, as other siblings arrived from Guatemala and expenses mounted.
“It was a hard life when we came here,” said Lopez, who married at age 22 and had his first child two years later.
Once he went to work, he quickly became a partner in his father’s landscaping business, but both had difficulty communicating with their clients.
So he overcame his reluctance to return to school in his late 20s and was relieved to find company that first day back in a classroom.
“There were people in their 70s, 60s around me,” Lopez said.
What also surprised him was the level of accommodation and understanding he received from his teachers. There were many days he arrived late to class.
“Landscaping is very hard,” he said. “We don’t get out at 4 o’clock. We get out when we finish the job.”
Lopez, who is now contemplating enrollment in college to study business administration, said his teachers deserve credit for helping him complete the program.
“They’re part of my life story now,” he said.
noliveira@ stamfordadvocate.com, 203-964-2265, @olivnelson
stamfordadvocate.com, 203-964-2265, @olivnelson