My Cypress Story: Lisa Benjamin

Every person has a story to tell, and Cypress College is excited to share the inspirational, motivational, and aspirational stories from our many students of all walks of life. No matter the path, we accompany each and every one of our students on their educational journeys. Take a walk down the west-side hall of the Humanities Building to explore some of the people who make us a unique community.

We call this project “My Cypress Story.”

Hello, my name is Lisa Benjamin.

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?

I grew up in a small town in Central California where, for me, sports and art were life. I always struggled with academics—things didn’t click very easily for me as they did for other students, especially in math. Not knowing at all what I wanted to do for a career after my high school graduation, I entered the workforce where I worked a few different types of jobs before realizing I wanted to become a manicurist. I always loved doing nails, so it seemed perfect for me and a way that I could get paid for my artwork.

Off to beauty college I went, but after graduation and before I could take the State Board Exam, I was in a tragic car accident, where I suffered a spinal cord injury. After the accident, I was left quadriplegic for two weeks and paralyzed for roughly six months. I will continue to suffer from lifelong nerve pain and some lingering paralysis in different areas of my body. Keeping a positive attitude, I thought, “What is the worst that could happen now,” considering the doctors had no idea what my outcome would be. So, I pushed forward with one goal in mind: walking. Learning how to walk again was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have ever had to do. Having to endure this was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. I don’t take life for granted and every day I remain upright is the best day I could ask for. I am not guaranteed to walk forever, so I enjoy every step I am able to take.

After three years of therapy, I thought, “I am ready to take my State Board Exam.” I did, and passed. I was now a licensed manicurist and ready to feel normal again. I landed a sweet job at a very prestigious day spa and thought I had finally made it. However, after a couple years, I realized that I needed to grow beyond what my small town had to offer.

Not sure where to go or how to get there, I went online and found a roommate finder. I found a few people in the area where I wanted to live in Southern California and set up some appointments. After meeting with everyone, I picked the best out of what I had. I quit my job, gave notice at my apartment, registered for college at another institution in Orange County, and moved.

My major was athletic training. I felt a passion to go in that direction due to the hours I spent in therapy. I was hoping to help others and motivate them to accomplish what seems almost impossible while keeping a positive attitude. Eager to learn and help, I landed an internship in the training room at my school. However, my hopes were cut short when my own injuries caught up with me and I was no longer able to continue my studies at a higher educational institution with that being my major. Even while still struggling with mathematics, I overcame those setbacks and graduated with my associate degree.

Why did you choose Cypress College and how is being a student here helping you achieve your goals?

Not being from Southern California, I actually chose Cypress College based on the campus when I went to the swap meet they hold on the weekends. As we were walking through I was looking around and thought, “I could go here. It’s really nice.” I was trying to return to the workforce and applying for job after job, only to realize my computer skills were, let’s just say, not up to par for even the minimum requirements. Knowing I needed to return to college, I remembered that campus I saw at the swap meet. I then went to the Cypress College website and noticed all the CIS (Computer Information Systems) classes the college offers at many different levels, and I was sold. I registered right then and started to look at which classes I wanted to start with, hoping that come registration time they were available. They were and I was ecstatic. I do wish that I had found Cypress when I first moved down here.

I am able to achieve my goals because of the time I put into my studies and all of the resources that are available to me that I take advantage of. Without the extra help outside of the classroom, I wouldn’t have the grades I have. I put in the extra work and ask for help when I need it.

What do you like most about being a Cypress College student?

The feeling of success I feel after each day. This is the most rewarding time in all my years of school. I feel that everyone here at Cypress wants to be here. Having that positive energy makes me want to do more than I originally thought I could. Seeing everyone when I am walking around the campus helping each other and working together is amazing to be around.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded and who are the faculty and staff who have helped you along that path?

I originally was going to take just a few different classes in computer programs to brush up on my skills. After taking a couple classes, I realized I needed more than to just “brush up.” A lot has changed in 20-plus years, so I grabbed that catalog and planned my path. Now I’m about to enter my fourth semester and coming up on completion of three certificates and another associate degree. I am beyond thrilled about what I have accomplished and the fact that I was able to maintain straight A’s for the first time in my educational career.

I think that most of the teachers I have had at Cypress had a hand in where I am today. However, Mrs. P. (Pelachik), is always available to answer questions and guide me along the way. She encourages me when I begin to doubt myself or brings me back to reality when I am completely overthinking something. She has known the answer to every question I have ever asked, from “how do I do this” to “who should I talk to about that.” You can tell she loves teaching and enjoys watching her students succeed. It has been a complete joy to have had her as a teacher and mentor.

Also, I’d like to give a shout out to Theresa, Ayman, and the many teachers who help in the lab. Without the lab, I don’t know where I would be, hours after hours, days upon days, a million questions later, they are always there to help me through what I don’t understand, even though the answer is sometimes (most of the time) right in front of me.

What has been the most difficult part of being a college student? How have you dealt with that?

For me, I think the most difficult part is time. I feel, sometimes, that I plan how I am going to tackle all of my work instead of just doing it. There are so many steps in some of the lessons we are given that I often underestimate how long it is going to take to complete, or, at a glance, the lessons seem basic and easy enough, but once I am a few pages in, I hit a section that just makes me scratch my head in confusion. But I just keep going. I may have frustrating moments that feel like I will never be able to get the work done, but after reading and re-reading or asking for help, it just clicks. Also, sometimes I just need to step away for a few minutes to clear my mind, especially when I keep making the same mistake over and over.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?

Once I find a position, my long-term goal is to stay there; I am loyal and have roughly (hopefully) 15 years left in the workforce. So, to find a position that I love would just be perfect to me. To retire from a fantastic, satisfying job is the plan. Also, since art is my passion, I will be returning to Cypress to take more art classes when my schedule allows.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of myself, my determination, and everything I have been able to accomplish simply by not giving up. I may not have taken the easy route, but that’s OK because I found myself along the way. Also, staying positive even when there were not many reasons to has helped me complete everything I have ever put my mind to. Despite the fear, injuries, age, I put all that aside and pushed forward to achieve any goal I set for myself.

I am proud of my family, as well, for always encouraging me along the way.

What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?

Success is at your fingertips. Don’t let the fear of failing stop you from becoming a better you. Cypress offers an educational path for everyone at every level. Enjoy your time here. There is so much Cypress has to offer. Set goals for yourself and stay on top of your educational plan. Sometimes we don’t know what we want to do until we have taken a class in that area or vice versa. We go in with one path set in our minds and we find another path of interest instead that leads us to a better life than we could have ever imagined. Enjoy the ride and the amazing experiences that await.

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