Commencement Stories — Cynthia Mariott

Riverside native took a “Non-Traditional” path to a bachelor's degree

head shot in front of flowers

Cynthia Mariott will receive her degree in U.S. history and women’s studies during Commencement ceremonies at UC Riverside. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Marriot

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Cynthia Mariott’s story is one of persistence and perseverance.

A native of Riverside, Mariott’s parents divorced when she was three. Her mother, a regular drug user, fell into depression following the death of Mariott’s maternal grandmother and the family began a nomadic existence, frequently being evicted and occasionally living in motels. On top of that,  Mariott was abused by her step-father. At 15 she left home for good, living with a friend and later a boyfriend.

Embarrassed by her poverty, she left high school as a freshman and enrolled in home studies, but wound up short of the credits needed to earn a high school diploma.

She got married and had a daughter, Eleanor. She worked in several jobs in the hospitality industry before finding a position with a telecommunications company as an administrative assistant. That position evolved into an office manager, and finally a collections manager role. Throughout those years she had taken community college classes, but struggled to find a balance between her job, raising a child and the demands of the classroom.

But in 2009 Mariott was laid off because her position was being eliminated and, without a degree, she didn’t qualify for the new position that was available. But she viewed the change as an opportunity to do what she had wanted to do since she was a child — to go to college and earn a degree.

She began attending RCC in 2009. In 2010 she got married and in 2011 was accepted into UCR. But just a month or so she and her husband, David, learned that she was pregnant. She briefly thought about passing up on coming to UCR, but soon changed her mind. “I knew it would be a bit difficult, but I decided to go ahead with it,” she said, laughing. “I may have been crazy.”

Influenced by historian, author and social activist Howard Zinn, Mariott became a history major. In that first quarter she took a course in women’s studies and fell in love with the subject.

“I felt as if I had finally found a home where my political and historical understandings merged with all the socioeconomic inequalities I experienced and saw others experiencing throughout my life,” she said.

In February 2012 she gave birth to a son, Benjamin.

Now, three years later, she will graduate from UCR with degrees in U.S. history and women’s studies, and she is applying for graduate school with hopes of attending her top choice, UC Santa Cruz.

“This has been a long road for me to get here, where I am today,” Mariott said. “My looming graduation seems very surreal to me and many times I come to tears at the thought of actually completing this goal I set out for myself five years ago. I have had a great support team at home and here at UCR. My husband, daughter, mom and other family members and friends have done so much to help me achieve this goal. I am sure I would have succeeded on my own, as I’ve done that most of my life, but it sure did help having a support team that I could vent to, cry to and celebrate with.”

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