group photo of a family smiling

Sheila Estanique, seated, surrounded by her husband six children, two grandchildren and hānai son.

Sheila Estanique’s path to a college degree wasn’t smooth by any stretch of the imagination. Many experience potholes and bumps along the way, and Estanique’s rough years as a teen and young adult almost shut the door on her journey before it could even start.

She dropped out of high school in what would have been her sophomore year. She battled an affinity for drugs that began at age 15. She had the first of her six children at age 19. She ran away from home. She experienced domestic abuse with past boyfriends. The list goes on.

“It was a very horrifying and dark time for me,” notes Estanique, who is about to celebrate her 44th birthday. She doesn’t sugarcoat her past history, and her agonizing tale doesn’t obscure her story of redemption in the classroom.

On Saturday, May 4, Estanique will walk with other University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu graduates, having earned a bachelor of arts in social sciences with a concentration in psychology. She plans to pursue a master’s degree and sees herself working in an educational setting in the future.

“There were times when I wanted to give up (on pursuing a degree) when life, marriage, parenting and college became overwhelming,” said Estanique, who has children ages 9, 12 and 16 at home. “I would remind myself that my kids are watching me, that I am setting an example of what hard work, determination, and perseverance looks like.”

Getting her start at Windward CC

woman smiling

Sheila Estanique

At age 38, unsure of whether she could do the work, Estanique enrolled in two classes at Windward Community College.

“School is not easy for me,” said Estanique, explaining writing papers might take her a week, where other people might finish in a day. “I struggle to get my work done.”

Even so, it appears Estanique has found her groove in higher education, and there’s little in her demeanor to suggest her past. Despite self-doubts about her ability as a scholar, Estanique graduated magna cum laude from Windward CC as a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the largest and most prestigious honor society for two-year college students. “I really, really progressed there,” said Estanique, who also is the recipient of numerous scholarships.

Continuing her journey at UH West Oʻahu

At UH West Oʻahu she continued to do well. Konstantinos Zougris, a UH West Oʻahu assistant professor of sociology, said Estanique was an exemplary student, delivering challenging assignments in a timely manner, working well and adapting to others in groups, while demonstrating leadership skills.

“I was really impressed by her diligence and academic work,” Zougris said. “She was one of my top students.”

Estanique chose to attend UH West Oʻahu for a variety of reasons and speaks highly of the faculty. She is thankful for her husband, who she says was a partner in her education by helping out with their three children. She has three older children ages 21, 22 and 24 as well as two granddaughters.

Estanique’s already setting her sights on her next educational goal and plans to apply to the College of Education at UH Mānoa to enter the master’s program in educational administration in the fall 2020 semester.

To read the full article, go to E Kamakani Hou.