Personal trials and tribulations shape Georgian graduate for a bright future in law

Oct. 24, 2022

More than a thousand students are getting ready to cross the stage at Georgian’s convocation ceremony tomorrow. Along with her peers, Barrie resident Tammy Reyes Avila will look back on her time at Georgian with fond memories and reflect on how she persevered to get here. 

Tammy is graduating from the Paralegal program, and is also a past graduate from the Law Clerk program, class of 2021. She shares her inspiring story of how returning to school as a mature student was one of the best decisions of her life.

Early challenges and obstacles

Growing up, Tammy’s family struggled financially while her mother single-handedly raised six children with minimal support, worked and attended college. Tammy also faced various forms of trauma during her life including sexual assault, poverty and homelessness. At 16, she became a mother and dropped out of high school to work and support her newborn son. Later on, she gave birth to two daughters who are both currently studying at Georgian.

Tammy with her mother, Debbie.

Throughout her early adult years, Tammy was in several abusive relationships which forced her and her three children to live in a shelter for abused women and children. When they were no longer able to stay, her family was homeless for a short time.

I did everything I could to be the present parent in my children’s lives while they were growing up. I was determined to be at every basketball game, every school performance, every dance recital and every doctor’s appointment. The sacrifices I made in my life were worth seeing the smiles on my children’s faces.

After her children grew up, Tammy remarried and had another son. Unfortunately, this marriage was also filled with abuse and she found herself again in a difficult situation, both personally and financially. The most important thing for Tammy was to provide the best support for her family and that meant becoming a better version of herself. This is when she decided to pursue a new future and go back to school.

Tammy with her four children (left to right): Julia, Miguel, Hailey and Justin.
Julia and Hailey both currently attend Georgian. Julia is in the Veterinary Technician program and Hailey is studying accounting.

Starting fresh at Georgian

Returning to college was one of the scariest but best decisions of Tammy’s life. She actually returned to school for the first time in 2003 to become a personal support worker and worked in this role for 19 years. In 2018, she decided it was time for something more and chose to study in the two-year Law Clerk program at Georgian. For her, Georgian was the perfect choice being a reputable college that was close to her home in Barrie.

Tammy knew she wanted to be a lawyer since the 8th grade, but had to shelve those dreams knowing her family could not afford postsecondary education. After the birth of her fourth child, Tammy was navigating through her own legal situations and gained valuable knowledge from these experiences. Her passion for helping others is something that pushed her to believe in herself and take the leap into Georgian’s Paralegal program.

I knew that a career in law would allow me to be sympathetic to the lives of others, and provide hope for their future. I am a fierce advocate for fairness and equality, and my goal is to use my voice to help others who are afraid or don’t know how to stand up for themselves.

Support from faculty and classmates

Tammy was inspired by many during her time at Georgian, including countless professors and fellow students, but her professor Tim McKeon is someone who stood out for her. She recalls being on the verge of changing courses and struggling to know if she made the right decision to return to college. Tim was there for her and encouraged her to open her eyes to her abilities.

If it wasn’t for Tim, I don’t think I would be here graduating today. I will be forever grateful for those few moments he invested in me that allowed me to continue to invest in my future. Tim has always fought for his students and what he believes is right and fair. He is someone I hope to emulate and who I look up to.

Being at Georgian for the last three years was an unforgettable experience for Tammy. She worried that she would be the only mature student in her classes, but on her first week she felt a sense of relief seeing that there were many others just like her. She is extremely thankful for the professors and peers who supported her and challenged her to improve every day.

Like many others, one of Tammy’s greatest challenges was completing her studies during the COVID-19 pandemic. When she returned to the Barrie Campus after a year of online learning, she remembers seeing her classmates and professors and thinking, “Welcome home.”

She says, “These challenges just solidified the fact that my determination and strength were going to benefit me in my future career goals. If I was able to meet school assignment deadlines, be present for exams, attend class, all while working in healthcare and taking care of my family, the stress of working as a paralegal would be a piece of cake in comparison.”

Tammy at Georgian’s convocation.

What’s next for Tammy?

After graduation, Tammy hopes to find an amazing career with a company she is proud to work for and become a valuable member of a team. She is also driven to be involved in her community and support others who have been through challenges like her. In March 2023, Tammy will write the licencing exam, another important step on the path to becoming a paralegal. She is grateful to have a supportive family as she navigates this next phase.

Tammy’s advice for current and future Georgian students is to remember that you are worth the hard work and to never give up on yourself.

There will be times when you want to quit, when it feels like one year or four years is too long. But at the end of all your hard work, you will have the potential for a better future. While material possessions can be taken away, lost, or destroyed, your education is forever. Always fight for yourself. You are worth it.

Celebrate our graduating students

Join us on Oct. 25 to see our graduates walk across the stage! Check out the ceremony dates, times and locations to plan your day. For those that cannot attend the ceremony in person, watch our livestream of the event to celebrate from anywhere in the world.

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