It is important to remember that no matter how ones story begins there is more than can be written and it can always change before the end. Ten years ago Stephen “Vee” Vandereb, now 27, was an ex-gang member living in his car with a baby on the way. Vandereb grew up in a poor, crime-plagued neighborhood of Oceanside, Calif., where he joined a gang in his early teens. He fought and got in trouble constantly, but left the gang at 15 after he saw his younger brother beaten bloody in a fight. A year later, Vandereb learned he was going to become a father, and when his parents heard the news, they kicked him out. For the next year, he battled homelessness, dropped out of school for six months and struggled to keep a job to pay for the needs of his daughter, Keira Lee, who is now 11.
It’s not that Stephen didn’t try, he graduated from Oceanside High with honors, but could never find a job that made enough money to support himself and his daughter, so he joined the Marine Corps. There he was finally able to get some stable ground under him. He served four years before leaving the service to go to college. He originally enrolled in MiraCosta College but transferred to Cal State San Marcos to help take care of some family matters. It was there he discovered his real inner calling – to help others.
In his first year, he volunteered as a tutor at a group home for at-risk girls. Then he volunteered for the summer orientation team that welcomed new students to CSUSM. In his three years at CSUSM, Vandereb helped found an academic honor society for transfer students and a campus chapter of the fraternity Alpha Sigma Phi. He has won the Civility Champion Award, Senior of the Year Award, Overachievement Award, Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility Award and many other honors. He will be attending his graduation ceremony soon and he hopes that, when he steps up to the microphone to deliver the commencement speech to his fellow Cal State San Marcos graduates, the audience sees him as more than a man who excelled in college. He hopes they understand how much he overcame to get there. Which if you would like to know more about you can find in your Good News Story of the Day here.
As for Stephen, he has a desire for his speech and for his future; “I want to reach a wide spectrum of students and teach them that the least we can do is prove to the world that we took the good part of our experiences and used them as a tool to empower ourselves,” he said. With that in mind, next fall, he’ll start graduate school, with the goal of becoming a university sociology professor who can teach non-traditional students like himself that the adversities they face are merely challenges to overcome. A wonderful way to begin the next chapter of his story.
Story and Image from the San Diego Tribune.