Marie Ver Haar, Adjunct Faculty in the Administration of Justice Department, shares her journey to Ohlone College and inspires us with her relentless efforts in overcoming obstacles that came her way in the process. Ver Haar’s passion for justice fueled her drive and teaches us that when there is a will, there is a way.
My path to Ohlone was long and winding. But now that I’m here I can say with certainty that teaching college is the BEST JOB EVER! And I’ve had a lot of jobs.
Ironically, for a college professor, I wasn’t a good student. School was difficult. I worked hard with little academic success. My brain is quirky. I’m very literal. I don’t grasp the abstract. I choke on standardized tests despite my knowledge. Diagnosed with dyslexia in primary school, I'm a poor reader. It’s difficult to focus and organize my thoughts in writing. In grade school, I went to the math class for “dumb” kids. My high school counselor put me on the non-college track because I flunked algebra. There was no Professor O’Connell at my high school.
Hating injustice, I always wanted to be a lawyer. I excelled at arguing and protesting my parents’ inequitable rules between the males and females in our house. But when I mentioned law school, I heard, “you’re not smart enough.”
So, instead of college I got married, had a baby, got divorced, and consequently became a single mother. When my severely disabled son went to a special ed school, I enrolled at nearby Glendale Community College. When he took naps, I studied and did homework. I still struggled with math but did well in my other courses. My life seemed insurmountable, but college was my refuge.
Sadly, at age 5, my son died. I was heart-broken and lost. I lived in a cloud of grief for a long time. I couldn’t concentrate in school, so I worked at Nordstrom selling men’s shirts. With no knack for false flattery, I was a lousy salesperson. With no degree or marketable skills, I resigned myself to a life of unfulfilling jobs. I lost hope of going back to school…until two memorable events changed that. First was my shirt-selling co-worker, Kelly, a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA who told me I was wasting my life selling shirts and that I should be out changing the world. “Go back to school and get your degree,” she nagged. For every objection I posed, she offered a solution. Then I went to my brother’s college graduation. It stirred a love of academia I could no longer ignore. I enrolled at Cal State LA and graduated with my bachelor’s degree. It was the proudest day of my life.
My B.A. degree opened new opportunities. I worked with at-risk youth and gang intervention programs in Los Angeles. The injustice in the system was stark. My desire for law school resurfaced so I applied. I was accepted by my last choice, waitlisted by my first choice, and rejected by the rest.
orientation day I was plucked from the Loyola Law School waitlist. Elated, I ran to my car and sped to my new school. Students were asked why we chose to pursue law. Many confessed they had other plans but couldn’t do the necessary math. Others left careers as doctors, researchers, and rocket scientists. My classmates gasped and applauded when I said I had just been called off the waitlist. My heart still warms at their welcome.
I LOVED law school. But I always felt like I didn't belong. It exposed all my insecurities and academic weaknesses. I feared the dean might tap me on the shoulder and say my admission was a mistake. After my first year I was on academic probation for poor grades. Because Loyola was invested in my success, they sent me to UCLA for disability assessments where ADHD was identified among my challenges. I was treated for the ADHD, received accommodations, saw my grades improve, and graduated with my Juris Doctor.
I took and passed the bar exam, got married, and practiced law until 2008 when my husband became Ohlone’s Chief Technology Officer. With a two-year-old at the time, I didn’t want to practice law. But I needed more mental stimulation than Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer could give me. One day in 2010, former Ohlone Dean Lesley Buehler asked my husband if I’d like to teach a class requiring a law degree. I jumped at the opportunity. And here I am, happily educating future leaders and professionals.