My name is Karen Zilli Vaccaro. I graduated from Westchester-Emerson Adult School in 2000.

The high school diploma program for adults took me a little over 3 years to complete. I was 21 years old when I started. I went through school with a toddler and was working part time. The Adult High School program gave me the flexibility to study in between parenting and work and allowed me to go at my own pace.

I had many memorable inspiring moments in my high school journey as an adult. One great moment was when my teacher, Mr. Meyer, told me that my writing was “impressive” for someone who was just starting to learn English. I am Brazilian and had been living in Los Angeles for only a few years. Around my friends and family, I primarily spoke Portuguese. With Mr. Meyer’s words, I got a boost of self-esteem that encouraged me to continue my education.

Another great moment was when the 2000 class of Adult Education graduates chose me as the class president. I did not know many of them because we did mostly independent study. We had a meeting to talk about the graduation celebration and they voted for me. I never thought they would choose me, but this again gave me a reason to believe in myself.

Another huge inspiration was one of my classmates—a senior in his 70’s. This man was a self-made, successful business owner who never earned his high school diploma. The Westchester-Emerson Adult High School program gave him the opportunity to complete his high school degree and I am very proud to say we were in the same graduation class.

Something that made a huge difference in my public education experience was the “We miss you” postcards that the school sent me. These cards were signed by my favorite teachers and usually appeared after I had missed some classes because of work, parenting, or life. The postcards often arrived when I was feeling discouraged about life and school. Those postcards helped me return to school more than once. I am so grateful to another Westchester-Emerson Adult School teacher, Mrs. Gallardo, for taking the time to sign the cards and show me that she cared.

At my graduation, I was also awarded a $250 scholarship to go to college. Imagine, my high school gave me financial assistance to continue my education. That award helped push me to go to college. It was very important to me to not disappoint the school and teachers that had been so good to me. I went to El Camino College in Torrance for a nursing degree.

Public education gave me hope to pursue my dreams by providing a pathway to get where I wanted to go. My goal was to have a high school diploma and eventually graduate with a bachelor’s degree. My education at Westchester-Emerson Adult School provided much more than that. It gave a strong base to enter college and a huge opportunity to assimilate to the American culture, which eventually led me to become an American citizen. My education also taught me about life. It taught me things as simple as how to write a check, but also how to complete challenging assignments such as writing essays in a language I was just beginning to learn. I thought in new ways and in a new language because of my time at Westchester-Emerson Adult High School.

The LAUSD contributed greatly to my success in earning an associate’s degree in nursing from El Camino College and landing at the top of my class in 2004 there. After my graduation, I started my career at Cedars- Sinai as a Registered Nurse and have been working there for 17 years in the Neonatal ICU. I have taken care of thousands of babies and their families and dedicated myself to making a difference with every family that I have had the honor and privilege to work with. I care for patients that come from all over the world and all walks of life. My education with the LAUSD helped me become a professional that impacts not only the local neighborhood, but also in a much larger scale, numerous international families.

Public education is the core of a healthy and thriving society and the most certain way to produce productive members of society. It was public education that led me to where I am now, which is earning my bachelor’s degree by the end of the 2022 at Western Governor University.

My teachers were fundamental in helping me achieve my goals. Their caring, sensitive, attentive approach to assist me in my journey will never be forgotten and I am eternally grateful.