BOSSIER PARISH, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — A Bossier City woman raised with no formal education has overcome illiteracy and is now poised to become the kind of educator she never had.

On a warm night in May, Vina Perez walked across the stage at Bossier Parish Community College’s graduation.

“It was very overwhelming,” said Perez. “It was the first time that I ever walked a stage.”

She had earned her associate’s degree in Education. It was a night to celebrate. To understand Vina’s present, you must understand her past.

“It was a harsh life,” said Perez.

She’s one of 10 kids. Her parents met while her father was in the Air Force, stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base. After leaving the Air Force, they moved to Columbus, Ohio… her father taking jobs in construction. That’s when things changed.

“They pulled us and they said we’re going to home school you,” Perez recalled.

Six weeks into kindergarten, Vina’s parents pulled her and several of her siblings from school, claiming they’d be home schooled. Instead, she and her brother were put to work by their father at construction sites.

“So we learned skills like how to build a house, but not necessarily how to read,” said Perez.

Vina received no formal education. She was illiterate.

“We were building sidewalks. We were fixing pools. We were building walls. We were messing with cement mixers. We would do it because we had to. There was no, if he came back and it wasn’t done that was not going to be good,” explained Perez. “And now I look back and I’m like, that was not normal.”

The family would go back and forth between Columbus and Texas. Vina now realizes why it happened that way.

“CPS came into our lives a couple of times. I think anytime they started coming around, we would leave the state,” said Perez. “And then we’d come back months later when everything was clear.”

Vina vowed she was going to learn. So she walked to local libraries and found books with attached audio cassettes. She’d play the cassette and match the audio she heard with the words on the page.

“This word is this, because that’s what they said on the cassette tape.”

In her teens, she split from her parents and ended up having a son. It was in his teen years that a curiosity sparked.

“I said to myself my son is in high school. My son is four years away from graduating. And I’m going to tell him when he graduates, ‘Go to college’,” Perez shared.

That thought led her to take a leap of her own. She enrolled at BPCC, taking remedial courses, learning things she should have been taught for years.

For three year she kept moving forward. It all finally culminated on that warm night in May.

“The biggest thing is I want to make sure there isn’t anyone who has to deal with what I had to deal with. Because I think everybody should be able to learn.”