Mary Yaco was an angry teen.
She became a ward of the court at 14. Although Yaco continued school as a teen, she also battled with depression and thoughts of hurting herself. As a result, Yaco’s teen years were spent in unstable environments — hospitals and group homes — until, at 18, she moved to Colorado to be with her aunt. The move also came at the same time that Yaco started getting into drugs, specifically methamphetamine.
Yaco was an alcoholic who learned meth would allow her to drink more without feeling drunk. Now five years clean, Yaco is living with her parents and 15-year-old daughter in Redwood City while she attends Heald College studying medical assisting. Graduating high school was a big stepping stone to getting on track.
“I can’t believe I’m actually in college. I always wanted to go. … Things couldn’t have gone better,” said Yaco.
Her journey was far from a straight line. Yaco’s path took many turns. But once she started working, Yaco was always able to find work, even when she didn’t have the educational background for the job. At 26, Yaco found out she was pregnant — unexpected news that inspired Yaco to leave her daughter’s father, who was also Yaco’s dealer. She quickly cleaned up her act during her pregnancy and moved to Washington to live with her birth mother.
Yaco returned to California with her daughter, Jordan. She was able to get a job at Lockheed Martin at accounts receivable. It was a good job until she got laid off. Then it became very apparent that Yaco was being held back by not having finished her education. Yaco needed one more wake-up call — a run-in with the police. Unfortunately, Yaco didn’t stay clean after Jordan’s birth. She fell back into her own habits. She faced a hard drug charge or could go into a recovery program.
She picked the latter and excelled at the in-patient program. Yaco had worried about her family reaction but everyone was supportive. Yaco’s parents had always offered to support her if she moved home and went back to school — which is what she did once done with her rehabilitation requirements.
At that time, Yaco had been out of school for quite some time. The counselor at San Mateo Adult School recommended taking the general education development test instead, a much faster option. But Yaco wanted to get her diploma.
English teacher Shania Thompson described Yaco as a contagiously enthusiastic student. The kind whose interest inspires other students to pay attention.
“That’s what you want to get in a classroom, that spark. She’s a flame,” said Thompson.
Yaco, she said, always came prepared with a desire to learn more.
Challenges of high school brought Yaco and her daughter Jordan, now a 15-year-old sophomore at Sequoia High School, closer. They could work together on homework. Yaco officially earned her diploma in December. She then enrolled at Heald College to study medical assisting — a job that has inspired her daughter to go into the same field.
The San Mateo Adult School graduation will be held 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 19 at the College of San Mateo Theater, 1700 W. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo.
Great Grads is in its eighth year profiling one graduating senior from each of our local schools. Schools have the option to participate. Those that choose to participate are asked to nominate one student who deserves recognition.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105.