Senior citizen earns college degree

NORWALK - Stubbornness sometimes can be good. Determined to finish what he started when he was 18, Michael Esposito quit being a business owner and came back to Cerritos College after nearly 50 years.Born and raised in Whittier Esposito spent the first 32 years of his life in Southeast Los Angeles. His parents started a meat market in Whittier in 1947 when he was seven. Esposito worked there everyday while attending school, participating in band and, in high school, wrestling and playing football, until his parents sold the store in 1958. At Whittier High School, he was a good student, an accomplished athlete and college-bound, until life got in the way. Family finances prevented him from fulfilling his goal of attending a four-year college when he graduated from Whittier High School in 1958. He started working right out of high school, for San Antonio Construction Company in Artesia, in 1958, the year his mother married the owner of the company. That probably sounds like a better deal than it was. Esposito was not the favorite son that got easily promoted - he was cheap labor. He worked very hard, and quickly acquired skills that kept the company going. Esposito wanted to go to college but his mother discouraged him, because his labor was needed at San Antonio. She explained that, "Your father will teach you everything you need to know. No need for college!" However, "my passion for education has never left me," said Esposito. One day in 1959, Esposito was very surprised by a call from Joe Incorvia, who was his wrestling coach in high school. Incorvia had moved to Cerritos College from Whittier High to start a wrestling team. With help of Incorvia, Esposito started taking evening classes at Cerritos College where he became one of the first ten wrestlers to letter at Cerritos in the 1959-60 school year. Esposito continued to work in construction at San Antonio. He worked the first two years as a laborer then at age 20 he was made a carpenter. At age 24 he was a foreman and when he was 27 he was superintendent of the whole company. His college career ended for a long time after 1966. In 1966 he went to Mt. San Antonio College for one semester, but work again got in the way of college. Esposito left the company for two years from 1967 to 1969 to work for Steel Form, a large framing company for large concrete buildings and cement parking garages. He had worked there just six months when the company promoted him to foreman, supervising crews of 20 men. He went back to work for San Antonio Construction in 1970. In 1972 he moved to Northern California because of work, which had been very plentiful in Southern California, was then more available in the northern part of the state. He now lives in Grimes, which is 65 miles north of Sacramento. He obtained a B-1 contractor's license for California in 1975. A year later he earned a contractor's license for Nevada. By this time at San Antonio he was the construction superintendent. The company had grown and he did all the firing and hiring. He also had all authority over advertising and sales. In 1977 at the age of 37, Esposito bought the company and specialized in wood frame storage buildings all over California. Here is one episode that shows he remained a keen learner even after he became a busy business owner. In 1995 - back when not many contractors had online presence - he bought his first computer, educated himself on some computer programs, feeling it would help his business. He had never used a computer before and it took him two hours just to turn it on. Back in 1997 website development fees were nearly $5,000. He could not justify the cost and decided to develop one himself. So it took him about three months, it was a steep learning curve, but he did it. He developed a website for the company all by himself that kept going strong until he closed down the company in 2009. While working on a large job in Southern California, he went back to Cerritos College in 2003-04, after a 43 year educational hiatus. He was finally able to pursue his lifelong passion for education, interrupted by work and family obligations so long ago. He earned nine units before work took him north again. One must be wondering by now, "Why did he have to keep coming back to Cerritos College? There are colleges in the Sacramento area." Esposito responded, "Because I'm stubborn! This is where I started and I wanted to finish it here." Joe Incorvia was another big factor. Coach Joe was a big influence in his life - he introduced Esposito to wrestling in high school and taught him the importance of higher education. To show Joe that he completed what he started 49 years ago, it had to be Cerritos College. He came back to Cerritos College in summer 2009 to finish his "job." In fall 2009 after 49 years, he finally earned his A.A. in history from Cerritos College, where he started so long ago. Just to attend Cerritos College, Esposito drives over 1,000 miles going back and forth between Cerritos and Grimes every other week. Now he is taking a couple of classes to complete his transfer requirements so he can transfer to get his bachelor's degree in history. What next? 69-year-old Esposito smiled and said "I want to be a history teacher, if I live long enough!" He got married in 1960 and has been married for 48 years. He and his wife have three children: a son who is 48, a 47 year-old daughter, and a 40 year-old daughter. He is very proud that his son graduated from Chico College. Esposito has six grandchildren from the ages of 12 to 28 and two great grandchildren, ages one and three. His 28 year old grandson is in the United States Coast Guard and is going to college. "He says he had no choice, because of my constant nagging," laughs Esposito. "They all say that, but this one listened!" Now, with his college plans, Esposito is trying to stay up with the kids. With his energy and adamancy, or, stubbornness as he put it, he sure will make these dreams come true.

********** Published: January 15, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 39

NewsEric Pierce