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YVC student Ruben Mondragon on the Grandview Campus

Goal of a lifetime

More than 50 years after dropping out of school, Ruben Mondragon’s pursuit of college degree aims to inspire his grandchildren

In 1957, four years before the first human journeyed into outer space, Ruben Mondragon dropped out of school in the middle of 5th grade. In the following decades, Mondragon would live and work everywhere from Detroit to California to Seattle, but he never seriously thought about returning to school. 

Not until a couple of years ago, when one of his grandsons in elementary school asked for help with a school assignment. 

“I looked at it and it looked like Chinese to me,” said Mondragon, who will turn 81 in September 2024. “I said, ‘You know, if I tell you the answer you won’t learn it,’ and I walked away. But a week or so later I got to thinking ‘Wow, that was stupid. I should have been honest with him.’” 

At that moment, he made the decision to return to college and earn his college degree so that one day Mondragon would be able to tell his grandson how that moment inspired him to return to college.  

“I’m learning things that I never imagined I could do. It’s not easy, but it’s what I’m going to school for and I’m not going to give up.” Ruben Mondragon

With the help of a brother who lived in Sunnyside, Mondragon found a motorhome to live in near YVC’s Grandview Campus and make it easier for him to get to his classes. Not that returning to the classroom for the first time in more than half a century was easy. 

“First of all, I needed to learn how to turn my laptop on,” he said. “I struggled at first because the classes just felt too fast for me.” 

But gradually, Mondragon got more comfortable using his computer, navigating YVC’s Canvas learning management system and retaining the content from his courses which, in addition to English and math, have included a drawing class. 

“I’m learning things that I never imagined I could do,” he said. “It’s not easy, but it’s what I’m going to school for and I’m not going to give up.” 

YVC student Ruben Mondragon stands in front of his artwork in Larson Gallery
ABOVE: Ruben Mondragon stands in front of his artwork on display in the Larson Gallery as part of the 2024 Department of Visual Arts exhibition. TOP: Mondragon on YVC's Grandview Campus.

Living so close, Mondragon spends much of his time during the week studying on campus. He regularly takes advantage of the Writing Center for assistance with his class assignments, which he credits for helping boost his grades in the English classes he’s taken. 

While Mondragon is old enough to be the great-grandfather of some of his classmates, he enjoys the opportunity to joke around and have conversations with them.  

“Even though I’m older, I still understand where they’re at in life at their age,” he said. “Now a lot of [classmates] know me already and they know that I’m not playing games working to earn my degree. So they’ve kind of opened themselves up to me, which is great.” 

One of Mondragon’s goals is to paint a portrait of two of his grandsons who are twins, and the art classes he’s taking at YVC are helping him get closer to achieving that goal. 

“At first I wanted to do that right away, but my instructor was helpful in telling me to focus on how to use my paint, how to paint with the right proportions, so that I’ll be more prepared to do that portrait,” he said. “That’s something I’m really excited about being able to give them.” 

Story and photos by Dustin Wunderlich, director of community relations.