Fullerton Mom Daniella Naranjo Graduates For Her Daughter Feature Story

June 27, 2023

Daniella Naranjo’s proudest moment was seeing the joy in her 10-year-old daughter’s face when she graduated from Fullerton College.

Her daughter, Ruby, had witnessed many of the challenges that led to that moment in June 2021 – Daniella’s fight against substance abuse, the domestic violence she suffered, and the many late nights she spent studying.

“It was the best feeling,” Daniella, 41, says of her graduation day. “My daughter would see me cry and stay up late at night. To be able to see my daughter happy and smiling and say ‘Mom, you did it,’ was my biggest reward.”

Daniella’s plans for her education had been on track when she graduated from high school in 1999. She took her general education courses at Orange Coast College, then transferred to California State University at Fullerton on her way to earn a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.

Then, as she says, “Life happened.” She says she engaged in destructive behavior, including drug abuse and being subjected to domestic violence, that led to her dropping out of school.

She gave birth to her daughter and married her child’s father, but the marriage soon ended in divorce. Daniella spent six months at a Mexican drug rehabilitation center, and she said her young daughter made her realize she had to change her life.

“She kept asking me, ‘When are you coming home?’ As much as I wanted to stay with her dad, knew I couldn’t because I would have ended up dead from an overdose,” Daniella said.

She realized she still had the college credits she had earned from her previous attendance and decided to return to college to finally earn her degree. Fullerton College was close to her home, so she enrolled in 2018.

“Nothing is stopping me from going back,” Daniella says. “I was like, just let me do it.”

Even though she was pregnant with her second child when she started at Fullerton College, Daniella said she didn’t let that stop her. She was hired as an office assistant at the college’s Admissions and Records office, and Daniella said the office staff provided encouragement.

“I had so much support from my family and from the office to pursue my dream so I could see myself graduate,” she said.

Daniella said she also got assistance through Fullerton College’s CalWORKS program, which provides help to low-income parents who are attending college.

“They gave me the encouragement to keep going through all the stress and the bad days I had of being a single mom,” she said. “I was able to go to my counselor (Daniela Rodriguez), and she would always have her door open if I just needed a moment to talk.”

 Daniella’s quest for a college diploma resulted in not just one, but four associate degrees from Fullerton College. She was awarded degrees in Business Administration, Communication Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies degrees in Arts and Human Expression and Social Behavior and Self Development. She was also chosen as a Student of Distinction and received the Live Your Dream Award from the Westminster Soroptimists Club.

The Business Administration degree provides the foundation for entry into various fields of business and prepares students for professional opportunities that can be applied in most businesses. It is one of numerous degrees and certificates offered by the Business program at Fullerton College, which offers concentrations in Management, Entrepreneurship, International Business, Marketing, or Real Estate.

Following her graduation, Daniella is now attending California State University at Los Angeles and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies in summer 2023.

In addition to attending classes and raising her two children, Daniella still works 26 hours a week at Fullerton College’s Admissions and Records Office. Her dream job would be to be hired full-time by the office. She said her story can inspire other students.

“I carry that passion of helping students and letting them know that no matter what we go through as a person, if you still have those dreams to obtain a degree, you can do it,” she said. “I’m living proof. Through all the negativity that I went through, I was still able to graduate.”