Video by Columbia College Senior Video Production Specialist Mark Baumgartner

Tina Contreras ’23 savored the sweet sound of her name being called as she crossed the stage at Columbia College’s December 2023 Commencement.

Just a few years ago, she says she would not have believed the moment was even possible.

“I am deaf,” says Contreras, a Jefferson City, Missouri, native who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. “I had 5% hearing in 2015. I got implanted with cochlear implants on my right side in 2015 and my left side in 2016 at the age of 40, and now I have 96% hearing.”

Contreras completed her degree with a combination of online, virtual and in-seat classes, earning recognition on the Dean’s List in the process.

“Everyone asked me why I am going to college, and it’s because I can,” she says.

Tina Contreras ’23 poses for a photo with Scooter the Cougar before Columbia College’s Fall 2023 Commencement on Dec. 16 at the Southwell Complex. Photo by Columbia College Photographer & Graphic Designer Abigail Wade

She hopes to pursue her Master of Science in Criminal Justice at CC and is interested in law school.

“It’s just amazing,” she says of her graduation. “It’s something I never thought I would experience. I’m trying to take each moment and savor each one of them.”

Contreras credits her husband, Alfred, for encouraging her to continue her education.

She enrolled at CC in 2018, the same year they got married.

“He’s the one that told me, ‘Have you ever thought about going to college?’” Contreras says of Alfred, a former adjunct instructor at CC. “I was like, ‘I can’t go to college.’ He said, ‘Why not?’ He got the ball rolling, and here I am.”

Tina Contreras ’23 smiles during Columbia College’s Fall 2023 Commencement on Dec. 16 at the Southwell Complex. Photo by Columbia College Photographer & Graphic Designer Abigail Wade

Contreras wants to use her education to serve as an advocate for women who have been abused. Her dream is to operate a women’s shelter.

She says she hopes her example shows others that you can do whatever you put your mind to.

“Every child and every adult can learn,” she says. “No matter what your obstacle is, just keep pushing, and you can achieve whatever you want.”