AUBURN – Rachael Begin was 15 when her parents moved to Florida

without her.

A shy freshman at Jay High School, she didn’t want to start her life over in the Sunshine State. She agreed to stay in her Jay home with an older cousin, her cousin’s husband and their small children.

A year later, the cousin and her family left, too.

Living on her own at 17, Begin worked more than 40 hours a week at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken. She slept in her high school study halls.

“I always got my homework done. I don’t know how,” she said.

Begin remained an honors student even during her junior year, when she took custody of her 15-year-old sister. She pushed herself to go to college, even though she didn’t know how she could possibly afford tuition.

“I made myself. I didn’t want to get down the wrong path,” she said.

It took three part-time jobs, a 45-minute daily commute and some support from Central Maine Community College, but next month Begin’s hard work will pay off.

The 22-year-old architecture student will graduate as the college’s student of the year.
Above and beyond’
Begin walked into the school three years ago with dreams of a college education. She had more challenges than most teenagers: a young sister to support, little family help, a high school education that gave her good grades but not the reading skills she needed for college.

It would have been easier to put off school. But Begin wasn’t sure she would have gone back. Few members of her family had received a high school diploma, let alone a college degree.

“I didn’t want to be like them,” she said. “So I turned out like this.”

During her first year, Begin worked full time, cared for her sister and took five or six classes each semester. She got extra help from campus tutors.

Around her, Begin saw students getting involved in the school, becoming members of Student Senate or other clubs. Begin wanted to join. She just didn’t have the time.

During her second year, she decided to major in architectural and civil engineering technology, a program that perfectly matched her love of drafting and carpentry. She flourished, one of the few female students in a program filled with men.

“She holds her own. She goes above and beyond,” said instructor Daniel Moreno. “There’s no way to grade someone when you tell them to do something and they go 10 steps above.”

Begin became so good that other students dropped out of a job competition when they heard she had applied.


This year, Begin cut back on her hours at the fast food restaurant so she could take on a work-study job at the Gender Equity Office and a part-time position with Superior Concrete in Auburn. She didn’t have time to participate in college life during her first year. She made up for it in her third.

Begin helped edit the school’s literary magazine. She became president of the Women in Technology Club and won a spot on the school’s All-Maine Academic Team.

Five faculty members nominated Begin for student of the year.

“Racheal has touched so many of us here at the college with her determination,” said Gender Equity Office Coordinator Kathleen Harrison, one of the five who nominated Begin.

Three students were nominated. Judges unanimously chose Begin. A quiet, self-effacing student, she said she still doesn’t understand why she won.

“I was surprised. I’m sure that there are better people out there,” she said.

As student of the year, Begin will get a $1,000 scholarship. It’s the most money she’s ever received. She hopes to use it at a North Carolina university. Now that she’s earned an associate’s degree at CMCC, she wants her bachelor’s in architecture.

Another degree will allow her to earn more money, she said.

And for the girl who fought so hard just to earn a high school diploma, a four-year degree will open one more door.

Said Begin, “I can also go for my master’s or doctorate.”

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