LA HABRA – Ana Maria Armano’s college career suffered so many setbacks since she enrolled at Cal State Fullerton, it’s a wonder she is graduating at all. Sunday, nearly eight years after she enrolled at CSUF in 1998, and after suffering a broken arm, two strokes and a heart attack, among other setbacks, she attended commencement ceremonies and received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology. And in a few weeks, Armano will turn 80. She will graduate cum laude, and she also will be recognized as this year’s oldest CSUF undergraduate student to finish with honors. But she prevailed. To say Armano has a passion for learning might be an understatement. It would be more fitting to say it’s in her character. It was instilled in her early childhood in Mexico, where at age 4, she would sit on her grandmother’s lap and listen to her uncle read. “He read the most beautiful books – `Les Miserables,’ `The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ `Count of Monte Cristo,’ `The Three Musketeers,”‘ Armano recalled. But the child would always fall asleep before the uncle could finish reading. “That would irk me,” Armano said. “So I decided I was going to read those books myself.” By age 5, Armano enrolled in school and learned to read. Her “excessive interest in words,” as she puts it, eventually helped her skip several grades. Even so, her school career in Mexico ended in the seventh grade. Armano immigrated to the United States at age 30 with her two children in tow. As a single mother, she had to put her pursuit of a higher education on hold. While supporting her children’s education, she reclaimed her love for novels, teaching herself English by reading Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. In 1969, she joined the Centinela Union High School District, where she worked as a bilingual adult-education teacher, a position she retired from 20 years later. Still, the education bug was tugging at her. Armano enrolled in El Camino College in Torrance and later at Cal State Fullerton, where she took one or two undergraduate courses each semester. Professors at Fullerton describe Armano as a stellar student. “Very conscientious and just very determined,” several of them said. But recovering from her medical conditions and diving back in to university-level work proved difficult. “For the first time, I found myself struggling to learn,” Armano admitted. “I was making a tremendous effort to catch up with students. It was not a breeze; it was uphill all the way.” Despite the challenges, college officials said Armano maintained mostly A’s and a few B’s throughout her career. She graduated Sunday with a 3.74 GPA. “She’s a role model for all of us,” said Susan Parman, professor and chairwoman of CSUF’s anthropology department. From Armano, other students can learn that “whether we’re old or young, when you’ve established your goals, you go after them no matter what life throws at you,” Parman added. After she crosses the stage to receive her degree today, Armano said, her next goal is to pursue a master’s degree in anthropology. And she is already setting goals after her master’s degree, Armano said. “If I finish my master’s,” said Armano, “I probably would go and take cooking lessons – because I’m a lousy cook.” [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3024160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2But ask Armano and she’ll tell you exactly how she feels about the latter. “I don’t feel I deserve that much credit for being old,” she said. “I would have been 80 years old either way. “I feel I deserve credit for staying with it.” Pursuing a college degree has been no easy task for the La Habra resident. With each medical emergency, Armano was forced to put off college for a semester or two. “The strokes took away my memory, and the heart attack took my spirit away,” Armano said.