"I feel extremely proud of myself," she said. "I'm so happy I'm overflowing with joy. I'm sitting here tearing up, 'cause it's hitting me that today at the age of 49, ex-drug addict, ex-prostitute, ex-gang banger, I'm getting my diploma. I'm truly blessed. God is good!"
Catarina came from a life of abuse, dysfunction, and pain. She took to drugs at a young age and spent five years in the Valley State Prison for women.
"Along the way, I had children-- seven to be exact, which I lost custody to all but one. But I've been clean seven years, been out of prison 10 years and I got all my children back in my life today. I'm so grateful for life today and I'm truly blessed. It feels so right to be in my own skin. As I look back, it's only to remember that I've come a long way and I never wanna go back."
She dedicates the diploma to her former church pastor, Daniel Zabalza. He became her mentor and friend, but recently died in a car accident.
"He taught me a lot. He showed me unconditional love and support and I know that if he was here, he'd be so proud of me today."
She is one of about 110 graduates from the Sanger Adult School this year who is also beating the odds.
"They all had some block in their path. The fact that they're moving forward in life-- it's inspiring to see that," said Gloria Garcia, who works at Sanger Adult School. "I remember telling her (Catarina) don't give up. We just kept telling her 'Just keep going' and she did it. It's never too late to keep going."