RIDGEFIELD — About 740 students crossed the stage to collect their diplomas at the 79th Clark College commencement ceremony Thursday night at the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds.
Sitting among the blue-gowned sea of graduates was Alex Peraza, who has earned a transfer associate's degree and will begin classes at Washington State University Vancouver in August.
His is an American success story. He's a first-generation college student and a Cuban immigrant. He's a veteran who served 14 months in Iraq. He's a single dad raising his three young children.
Peraza, 39, was born in Cuba and was 4 when his family left their homeland to seek opportunity. For two years, they lived with relatives in Spain. Finally, they were granted asylum in the U.S. as political refugees. First, they settled in Florida, where they had relatives. But his parents realized their four sons would have more opportunity in the Pacific Northwest, and they moved to Portland, and Peraza graduated from Jefferson High School.
He didn't consider college. Instead, he joined the U.S. Army in the infantry in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. "This is home. It was my time to help protect, regardless of the politics of it all," Peraza said.