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Phoenix Forward

70-year-old Roberta Torres graduates from University of Phoenix

Roberta Torres

Few good things in life come easy, and nobody knows this better than Roberta Torres. The 70-year-old has endured numerous trials throughout her lifetime: failed marriages, loss of three children, diabetes, abuse.

But that hasn’t stopped Torres from pushing toward her dream of a college education.

Torres received her associate degree last March from the University of Phoenix criminal justice program and is now working toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, to be completed in 2012. She takes classes both online and at the Phoenix Main Campus.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t feel my age,” Torres says. “I don’t look old either.”

I always tell the kids, 'If Grandma can do it at 70 years old, look at what you can accomplish.'

This sense of humor has helped Torres plow through a lifetime of heartache and hardiness. Torres, a Native American who hails from the San Carlos Apache tribe in San Carlos, Ariz., was 15 years old when her parents, in what was then traditional tribal custom, gave her away to a neighborhood boy on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. She married at 17. When that troubled marriage ended, she had two sons and no skills. She eventually remarried and held numerous jobs, mostly secretarial work, including for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Child Protective Services.

Torres stumbled upon University of Phoenix several years ago while searching for information on college programs. “I always wanted to go back to college, and I knew it was going to be hard,” she says.

Torres quit her full-time job in order to focus on school and hopes to enter the legal or court system and work to help the tribe after graduation.

“Her grandkids — they really motivate her,” says Sofia Little, Torres’ senior tribal finance advisor at the University. “She’s a fighter.” 

Torres says many Native Americans in her tribe are so accustomed to the reservation that they do not want to leave.

“When I left my first husband because of abuse, I didn’t have any skills,” she says. “But I stepped out and look where I’m at. I always tell the kids, ‘If grandma can do it at 70 years old, look at what you can accomplish.’”