Christina Beaulieu is not your conventional college student, but she is every bit as extraordinary. After overcoming many obstacles and feelings of self-doubt, Beaulieu returned to college at the age of 44 and will soon graduate with a 3.81 G.P.A. For someone who did not always believe college was the right path for her, standing proudly at the top of her class is a momentous achievement – one that would not be possible without supportive loved ones and faculty guiding her way.
Beaulieu’s journey began in Kerman, a small town 15 miles west of Fresno. It is where she was born and raised. Even with a population of less than 13,000, Beaulieu still managed to feel lost among the crowd – as if she didn’t quite belong.
“Growing up, my family was really poor,” said Beaulieu. “We didn’t have a lot of things, so college was the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t even know it was a possibility for me.”
For Beaulieu, having hot water to shower in and food, other than a bowl of beans to eat, was considered a luxury. She said the feeling of cold water running down her back is one she can never forget. The hardships she faced in her childhood set the foundation for her future, where she hopes to teach physical education to youth.
In her personal statement, Beaulieu said, “I want to be a positive role model for my students. I want them to know they don’t have to give up, no matter what life circumstances they may be facing.”
In fact, giving up was never an option for Beaulieu who was forced to work several different jobs after two divorces left her as a full-time single mother to her three kids, Katie, Andrew and Emily. She persevered, doing what was best for her children, but in the back of her mind she knew she always wanted to return to college one day.
It wasn’t until she met her husband, John, that she realized college was a real possibility for her. It didn’t have to be a dream anymore, but a reality. All it took was someone believing in her.
“He’s been such an amazing partner,” said Beaulieu of her husband. “He’s given me the strength to get through this.”
With newfound confidence igniting her, Beaulieu enrolled at Fresno City College and studied accounting, later receiving her associate’s degree. Not long after, she realized a career in accounting was not the path she was meant to take. After all, she loved the outdoors and she often reminisced about her childhood teachers and the positive impact they made on her. She combined the two areas and decided a career in physical education was where she needed to be.
In spring 2015 Beaulieu enrolled at Fresno State to major in Kinesiology with an option in Physical Education.
“I’m so glad I switched to P.E. because it was a big jump, a big leap,” said Beaulieu. “But accounting wasn’t my passion or something I enjoyed. As soon as I got to Fresno State and started taking Kinesiology classes, I knew I found my calling.”
Beaulieu quickly immersed herself in her major, serving as treasurer of the Kinesiology Pedagogy Club and later joined the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, gaining the respect of her fellow classmates and instructors along the way.
“When I started, I kept thinking to myself ‘is this real?’,” said Beaulieu. “Because it’s fun and I actually like this. My classmates look up to me. I don’t know if it’s because I do my work or if it’s because I’m older, but they always look to me for advice. I love it because I’ve always wanted to be that person to help someone else.”
One of Beaulieu’s best experiences in the program was when she had the opportunity to become a Physical Education Specialist with Fresno Unified School District. Through this unique assignment, she received hands-on experience teaching elementary school teachers how to incorporate physical education into their lesson plans.
Her work did not go unnoticed by faculty, who named her Major of the Year, and applauded her work ethic.
“Christina is, in fact, one of the finest students I have ever had,” said Dr. David Kinnunen, associate professor of Physical Education. “She represents the best that the Fresno State and the Department of Kinesiology has to offer. She has always shown a high degree of initiative, combined with a willingness to assist others in any way. She has shown herself to be an outstanding student with an inquisitive mind and a determination to succeed.”
The influence her professors had on her has inspired Beaulieu’s own teaching style. She said she wants to have that same effect on her own students someday.
“I don’t want to be just a P.E. teacher,” said Beaulieu. “I want to be that teacher that kids look up to – with whom they can see something positive in their life. If just for one period I can be that positivity in their day, then I want to be just that. I want to encourage them to be healthy and push them to be strong and fit for a lifetime and encourage them to go to college. P.E. is not just about learning kickball. It’s about making a difference.”
Christina says her large family, including her husband, 5 children and stepchildren, including a son serving in the Marines, and 4 grandchildren have given her the strength to succeed.
In the future, Christina intends to pursue a master’s degree in child psychology or developmental psychology, where she aspires to make a meaningful difference for children facing adversity in their lives.
“I never thought, in a million years, that I would get my bachelor’s degree and you know, here I am at 46, getting my bachelor’s degree,” said Beaulieu. “It’s just not sinking in yet! I’ve worked so hard to get here and I feel like I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Christina Beaulieu is a candidate for the prestigious California State University, Fresno University President’s Medal, which is the highest honor the University presents to an undergraduate student. The President’s Medalist is selected from the nine undergraduate Dean’s Medalists who represent the academic colleges and schools and the Division of Student Affairs. The awardee will be announced at the University Commencement on May 20, 2017.