#CYProud: Holly Herrera, Mortuary Science

Student success comes in many different forms, and Cypress College is proud to recognize and celebrate the variety of paths our students take to achieve their dreams. Whether it’s transferring to a four-year institution, or receiving an associate degree or certificate and heading into the workforce, we want all of our students to know we are on this educational journey with them and are pleased to feature distinguished #CYProud students for 2019.

Holly Herrera

Holly Herrera worked as an EMT until she decided she wanted a career focusing on the surviving family members of a trauma. Committed to working in the funeral industry, she returned to school to pursue an education in mortuary science while working full time and raising a family. Holly is now a licensed funeral director and registered apprentice embalmer at a funeral home in Corona. She also hopes to pursue a bachelor’s degree in forensics or criminalistics to one day work as an investigator for a coroner or in a similar medicolegal career.

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?

I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. Like most people, my childhood wasn’t ideal, but I am forever grateful for the experiences that have shaped me into the adult I am today. I currently live in the Inland Empire with my husband, our three children, and the most beautiful and talented fur-baby you have ever seen! I am also a licensed funeral director and a registered apprentice embalmer for a funeral home in Corona, California.

Professionally speaking, I come from a background of emergency medicine. During my time as an EMT, I encountered every aspect of humanity. I have seen the ugly, the terrifying, the promising, and the innocence of life. After some time, I felt compelled to move on to a new chapter of my career, this time focusing on the surviving family. It is a privilege to help families celebrate the life of their loved one.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

Once I had committed myself to working in the funeral industry, I began to research schools. When I found that Cypress was not only within a commutable distance, but also regarded as having one of the leading Mortuary Science programs, I knew it was meant to be. Returning to school after a hiatus of raising children and working in a different career path was daunting. I felt intimidated and unsure if I could do it. My first meeting with a counselor reassured me that I was making the right choice and just how lucky I was to attend Cypress.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?

It wasn’t until the third semester of my program that students and faculty were able to establish the Sigma Phi Sigma chapter here on campus. The purpose of our fraternity is to educate the public about the funeral industry and shed light on a field that is often misunderstood. I encourage all students to enhance their educational experience by participating in clubs and fraternities. You really owe it to yourself to give it a try.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

Not to sound cliché, but I am passionate about life. Since working in the funeral industry, I have come to appreciate just how little time we have on this earth. Witnessing firsthand how unpredictable death can be has put my own life into perspective. Time flies by. It is a precious gift that many of us take for granted. Spend the time you have with careful words and a forgiving heart.

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today?

Each faculty member of the mortuary program has positively contributed to my time here.

Professor Grande has become a mother figure to me, whom I hold in high regard. In an industry that is historically made up of men, she has worked her way to the top and is single-handedly the most knowledgeable person of funeral law. Jolena Grande is a force to reckon with, and I admire her tenacity and appreciate her nearly impossible homework load. Professor Grande, I thank you.

Dr. de la Cruz is an aristocrat of mortuary science. He is truly a student’s advocate and holds our best interests at heart. Not surprisingly, he is also one of the most generous people I have ever met. There is never a dull moment in a DLC class. He has created a drive in all of us to become the best we can possibly be, and to do so with unfailing integrity. Dr. de la Cruz, I thank you.

Professor Collins, the fashionista of mortuary science, has the best attitude and sense of humor, both of which are desperately needed in this industry! Her door is always open to students and she takes time to hear us out and find solutions to our problems. She relates to her students and her desire to help us succeed is genuine. Professor Collins, I thank you.

Professor McCament. There are not enough sweet words to describe this man. He is the most selfless soul, commuting unthinkable miles, all in the name of teaching. When my cohort first heard that he was retiring, we legitimately felt sad. There is no end to this man’s patience. I could not have asked for a better instructor and I feel confident in my own skillset thanks to his guidance. Professor McCament, I thank you.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Professor Nichols. Even though we had a short time with you face-to-face, you managed to get us all excited for restorative art. Even though your days are spent outside of the classroom, you are always reachable and ready to help us with any concerns. More importantly you taught us not to take ourselves seriously and to enjoy our work. Professor Nichols, I thank you.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?

I am currently in a two-year apprenticeship for my embalmer’s license. I will continue to work both as a registered apprentice and a licensed funeral director. I look forward to applying what I have learned here at Cypress.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?

My plan is to begin my undergrad in forensics or criminalistics while I am completing my apprenticeship. My aspirations are to work in the capacity of an investigator for a coroner, or in another medicolegal position.

What are you most proud of?

I will be completely honest, when I received notification that I was selected to be recognized, initially I did not feel as if I deserved it. There have been many times during the duration of my program that I wanted to give up. Through the challenges of having a family, working full-time, and attending school full-time, I questioned my choice daily. However, I stuck with it, and I refused to back down. I am proud that I am just a few weeks of completing this chapter of my life and look forward to the next challenge.

What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?

I’d like to speak directly to those who find themselves wanting a change in careers, or who have spent their lives being a caretaker and now want to do something for themselves: You can do this. No matter what field calls your name, once you make that commitment, see it through. Life will throw all sorts of obstacles your way. There will be times that you will find yourself in tears questioning your decision. Those are the times that define us and show us just how fierce we are. Take the time to shed your tears, gather your thoughts, and move one foot in front of the other.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’d like to personally thank all the members of my cohort. We have been through some difficult times together, and I am honored to have stood alongside every one of you. I hope you all have learned something from me as I have learned from you. I wish you well and I hope to see you once again.