Jeremiah Leyva went from academic challenges to earning his bachelor’s degree
Jeremiah Leyva put his arm around his daughter, Daymiah, in an iconic moment — a proud dad embracing his child on graduation day. It was May 18, 2019 and Daymiah had just wrapped up her Lorain County Community College career with both a high school diploma and an associate degree through the College Credit Plus program through Lorain High School – Titan College. At age 18, she was way ahead of the academic game, venturing off to Miami University with two years of college courses already completed.
But what made the moment unusual is that Jeremiah was graduating, too. He was celebrating his bachelor of science degree from the education intervention specialist program at Ashland University through LCCC’s University Partnership program. At 36, he was older than some of his fellow graduates, but like Daymiah, he had reached this moment and earned this achievement because of his determination.
“He challenged himself by taking that step and going back to school,” says Daymiah. “What I was doing as a high school student was difficult, but for him, restarting after so many years out of school is even more challenging, and it takes somebody who has a lot of will and dedication.”
The inspiring story of how Leyva wound up graduating on the same day as his daughter can be told in the form of three letters.
To whom it may concern
In 2011, Leyva addressed a note “to whom it may concern” at LCCC. It found its way to Marcia Ballinger,
Ph.D., who was then the school’s provost and is now its president. In his late 20s, Leyva had finally figured out what he wanted to do, and he knew that at LCCC, he could pursue his newfound dream to become an educator.
The trouble was that Leyva, a 2000 graduate of Lorain Southview High School, had been placed on academic probation at LCCC in his early 20s. “I really did not do well that first time around,” he says. “I was on academic probation without an expiration date. So I wrote a letter trying to get reinstated.” Ballinger responded to the letter and requested to meet with Leyva to hear his story and learn about his intentions. Leyva explained that by coaching Daymiah’s softball teams, he had discovered a desire to improve the lives of Lorain’s young people.
“I could see he was determined to turn his educational journey around and become a positive role model for his daughter,” Ballinger says.
Reinstated, Leyva jumped into the challenge head first. The working father of two also continued to coach, eventually becoming an assistant on the Lorain High School football, girls’ basketball and baseball staffs. And in 2014, he earned his associate degree. Degree in hand, he was ready to pursue his bachelor’s degree at Ashland University through LCCC’s University Partnership, in which students can earn degrees from leading universities on LCCC’s campus. Enrolling through the University Partnership would allow him to continue coaching and save him the hour and 15-minute drive to Ashland.
An urgent email
Unfortunately, just as Leyva planned to attend Ashland University, he learned that he needed an LCCC class to raise his GPA for admittance.
“I was deflated,” Leyva says. “That one class was going to throw everything off.”
With three days left to register, Leyva talked to his grandmother, Maria, who asked if there was someone he could reach out to.
Leyva again thought of Ballinger.
The email he wrote to her was the football coach’s equivalent of a Hail Mary, a last-chance heave toward the end zone. He figured the odds of the college president getting back to him in time were slim.
But his Hail Mary was caught.
“Dr. Ballinger emailed me back within 20 minutes,” Leyva says. “I was stunned.”
Together, they created a plan to get Leyva to the finish line in time for him begin classes at Ashland. He completed his bachelor’s degree requirements in time to graduate.
A heartfelt thank you
Just before graduation, Leyva emailed Ballinger once again.
“None of this is possible without you,” he wrote. “My grandmother always said that God has angels that look over us and sometimes sends them in the form of another human being. You were my angel.”
Leyva’s grandmother passed away a few months before he graduated, but he has little doubt she has been looking down.
“LCCC is here when students are ready — at whatever stage in their lives that happens,” Ballinger says. “If someone is looking for that second chance, we are here to provide it.”
Ballinger says the college embraces students in a culture of care that encourages faculty and staff to meet students where they are and provide them with the support they need, both inside and outside the classroom.
“I like to say that we wrap our arms around every student who comes to LCCC,” she says. “Because we believe that every student’s dream matters.”
“LCCC is here when students are ready — at whatever stage in their lives that happens.”