Valeria Galbert is an anomaly.
She’s many things which studies say should’ve stacked higher educational odds against her: a daughter of immigrants who didn’t attend college, growing up in a harsh environment, and a on-and-off relationship with community college. According to those same studies, Galbert shouldn’t have had her pick post-SMC between the likes of Columbia, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Loyola Marymount and more.
Yet she defied the odds.
To hear the soon-to-be LMU philosophy grad tell it — after seeing friends die on the streets, after becoming sober, after finding God, after finding stability — her journey to this point always felt predestined.
“It all felt meant to be, like everything happened for a reason, as corny as that sounds,” Galbert said in a phone call with the Daily Press. “When I look back, it’s crazy to me.”
Galbert grew up in a 90s pre-gentrified Mid-City, a time when that stretch of LA was, as Galbert says, wasn’t exactly friendly.
“In those times, it wasn’t the best environment for kids, adults, anyone,” she said. “A lot of criminal activity, wild crowds. I got caught up in that. It was a low-income community, people doing what they had to. All of that though, it affects a child. You don’t sit there and prioritize your education when you’re a part of that life.”
In spite of her surroundings, Galbert did well in school for the most part.
She liked to learn, something she says her parents instilled in her. Despite not being college educated, Galbert says her parents are extremely well-read and continuously inspired her.
“They always wanted me to go to school and good grades so I wouldn’t have to work paycheck to paycheck or worry about life … Academically, I never had issues. I picked stuff up quick. Behavior-wise was the issue.”
Around high school, Galbert says she started hanging with the wrong crowd. She says she was focused on feeling good, drinking, smoking and ditching school. Despite getting into LACES, a university-preparatory school, she flunked out.
Life changed. She saw a friend get killed in front of her. She developed depression, anxiety and PTSD. She bounced between high schools before finishing her GED at a continuation school.
She didn’t see much of a life for herself past high school, despite wanting more.
She attempted community college at SMC and dropped out. She would go on to work service jobs for years until she felt stuck. She knew she had to change her ways to move forward in life.
After she stopped hanging with the wrong crowd, she met her husband, Marcel. She credits him and her parents’ constant support for getting her to change her ways.
“My husband was sober and it inspired me the way he got things done. He was also always calm, nothing ever bothered him. He’d say, ‘I’ll let Jesus handle it’ when things came up. I admired that.”
Galbert got sober (cold turkey), started going to church, and knew she had to “go to school and do the damn thing.”
She initially went to school to get an AA, to “be a supervisor or something at one of these jobs” and got more than she could’ve ever imagined in her second stint at college.
She dove into her education. She aced her classes and actively participated in the school, eventually interning at NASA’s JPL Science Division in Pasadena.
SMC Tutoring Coordinator Aline Baumgartner saying Galbert was “always looking for opportunity rather than waiting for things to happen to her.”
Galbert got involved in Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), an SMC honor society, which she says catapulted her to success. She ascended up the ranks of the group and when school transfer time came around, she was supported by fellow PTK members.
“I was applying to just state schools, I didn’t think I’d have a chance anywhere else. But Irving (Angeles, a former SMC student and PTK member) said, ‘Cal States? No girl, you need to apply to private schools, universities, big schools.’ They helped me trust and believe in myself.”
After gaining two AA degrees — one in science, another in geography — Galbert had her pick of colleges to choose from for her Bachelor’s. UCLA, Columbia, UC Berkeley and more, but it was LMU that had her heart.
There, she says, she felt she got a hands-on education. She joked that “each student there — every student — had an advisor for something, and that advisor had an advisor for them advising them on something,” giving her an impression her individual education would be cared about.
Though she started with environmental studies as her major — which she began due to her love for nature, sparked by her nature-loving dad — she is now a philosophy major, on the verge of getting her degree.
When reflecting, she takes pause and gets choked up thinking how much her life has changed.
“I credit my husband, parents, professors, so many people. I hope this shows people like me — grew up in a tough socioeconomic position with no real college role model — that life can get better. You can get out of that life and change things.”
“Resilience,” Baumgartner says, is the word that defines Galbert. “She defies all the erroneous studies that portray students from certain groups as low achievers. Yes, there is talent and yes, they’re capable as long as they’re put on the right path … She’s not only a Latina but first in her family. Married, too, and achieved so much. She’s a good example for other students. It’s good that they see it’s possible that people like them can make it.”