A San Francisco woman who once dropped out of school because it was so hostile and uncomfortable is now valedictorian of her graduating class at Cañada College.
Andrea Griffin, 29, was an eighth-grader at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco when she stopped attending classes. She already had a reputation for being shy and nerdy. Missing school made it worse.
"They made fun of me in general, and then they made fun of me for not being there," Griffin said. "School seemed like a hostile environment."
After that, Griffin stayed home, exploring theater work on the side. She enrolled in an independent-study school at 16, but by 17 she had taken the equivalency exams and obtained her GED.
One day, however, she went with a friend to the Serramonte Center in Daly City so the friend could buy scrubs for her nursing job, and Griffin experienced an unfamiliar feeling: wanting to study.
"I thought, ‘I want to belong to something. I want to wear scrubs,’" Griffin said. She returned to a long-standing desire to work with the elderly, and enrolled in a massage program at Sonoma College’s San Francisco campus.
Quickly, her fear and anxiety turned to confidence. She discovered an aptitude for anatomy and biology, and before long, students with graduate degrees were asking Griffin for help. They stated calling her "The Brain."
That reputation has continued at Cañada, where she enrolled two years ago to begin her undergraduate work. Griffin’s love of learning led to a 4.0 grade-point average, and she was chosen from among 10 top students as the class of 2006 valedictorian.
"She doesn’t realize how gifted she is," said Cañada College speech instructor Anthony Perez, who is helping Griffin write her valedictory address. "She represents this idea that if you have the desire to learn and become something, you can do it."
Cañada College biology teacher Nathan Staples agreed. "She works her rear end off, but she’s enjoying it."
After graduation, Griffin will head to San Francisco State’s satellite nursing program, which will include an internship at Sequoia Hospital. She lives in San Francisco’s Ingleside neighborhood with her husband, Steven Wolf.
Cañada College’s graduation ceremony takes place May 26 at 7 p.m. at 4200 Farm Hill Blvd., Redwood City.