By Philip Catalanotto
Memories evoke some of the strongest emotions a human being can experience. When retold, one can be transported into that life, time, and space. This is the memory of Victoria Catalanotto and her thirty-year journey towards college graduation, her success and a peek at her future aspirations.
Victoria was the second of four children born to Philip and Carol Pollina. They lived In Tucson, Arizona. Having four children in such close proximity meant that all the children would either attend the state university or community college to help manage the cost of education. Victoria set her sights on the University of Arizona nursing program.
College was a difficult adjustment. She recalls being socially awkward and feeling that she did not really “click” initially anywhere. The first semester her efforts were spent on work and studying and the yield was great. Her grades were promising and she was surviving financially. Juggling a full time job and school was no easy task. Her parents paid tuition but day-to-day life expenses were her responsibility. She recalls that she felt she could relax a bit the second semester and remembers what a huge mistake that was as she floundered in organic chemistry and physics. What was she thinking, trying to fit a social life in too?
One fateful semester and a failed vision exam lead to her eventual arrival in Flushing Hospital and Medical Center School of Nursing in Flushing, Queens, NY. It was through her parents' prior work contacts that she learned of this diploma type, hands on training school for registered nurses. She applied and was accepted. It required her to move away from everything she knew and was comfortable with. In pursuit of her dreams, she launched into her adventure that would change the course of her life.
In July of 1983, Victoria landed in NYC with a suitcase and guitar. She remembers feeling afraid and alone, never having traveled anywhere away from home with her parents. A colleague of her parents who assisted her in getting settled met her.
The residence for the students abutted the hospital. The classrooms were in the lower floors. The uniforms had not changed much from when the school opened in the late 1800’s. The caps remained unchanged. The students wore blue pinstriped dresses that buttoned from the neck to below the knee with heavily starched white aprons, white hose and white tie shoes. They were groomed and well disciplined from the very start. And what seemed like a monumental task became second nature. Nursing was a vocation. In June of 1986, Victoria graduated valedictorian with her diploma in nursing.
Three years flew by in a heartbeat. In that span of time, Victoria met her life mate, Gerald. They married shortly after Victoria’s graduation. It was her desire to return to school and a few years afterwards she began to take classes at the City University of New York. She soon put the hope of completing her degree on hold as her first child was born. Prioritizing, and choosing to raise a family, her energies and finances were routed into their two children rather than education. She has no regrets.
Returning to College, Two Children and Two Decades Later
In 2006, Victoria decided it was time to go back to school and finally complete her degree. It would be interrupted twice more to bury both her parents but she would persevere. She chose an online program at University of Phoenix so that she could balance her fulltime job as nurse manager, school, and responsibilities as a wife and mother.
“It presented many challenges, cognitively it was stimulating,” Victoria said. It was a spectacular way to network with peers from across the globe. She recalls staying awake some nights until the wee hours of the morning drafting papers or creating power point presentations. Victoria is still amazed at the positive effect it has had on her life.
Victoria decided that after the thirty-year journey from start to completion of degree she would attend commencement. On July 21, 2011, surrounded by family, including her brother, sister, husband, and two sons, Victoria received her BSN with honors amidst a crowd of thousands. It was one of the proudest days of her life.
As for the future, Victoria does not plan on ceasing in her educational pursuits. She is seeking both her masters and PhD. She believes that life is about the journey and making the most of the learning along the way.