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Chasing the American Dream

Here are two stories from people who believed in their dreams and pursued them for the second time around

Unlike Dorantes's, Barbara Serrano's second American Dream didn't arrive prematurely. Hers was more like a seed that grew over time, one planted by an inspiring story about a judge she wrote a decade ago.

For many years, it was easy to keep the seed from fully sprouting. Serrano was enjoying a successful career as a writer and editor at The Los Angeles Times and The Seattle Times, and as an officer of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Family needs were a high priority, even more so when she took over her 85-year-old father's affairs as his dementia worsened following her mother's death.

She was running a newsroom as managing editor at the Yakima Herald-Republic in central Washington, but her focus started to change as the economic downturn hit the media industry and an invitation from a local judge arrived. Serrano was asked to join a Washington State Bar committee dedicated to raising public awareness about the court system. The slow-growing idea of becoming a lawyer blossomed. She took the law school entrance exams, and in June 2010, at age 49, Serrano started classes at the Seattle University School of Law. "Law school is so intellectually stimulating and interesting and challenging," she says. "I wasn't getting that challenge anymore in journalism. The challenge there has become about fighting for resources."

She's not straying from public service, something that both professions have in common, she says.  Serrano wants to become a community-minded attorney. "Wherever this new path takes me, I want to be part of the movement to increase public understanding of the courts," Serrano wrote in her law school application essay. "I would like to become a prosecutor and apply what I learned to help shape public policy."

Despite her excitement, Serrano is worried about the practical implications of her decision. After seeing how demanding her studies are, she gave up on her plan to work part-time and is borrowing money. Unable to sell her house in Yakima, she decided to rent it out until the market improves. In late September, she became a renter, too, moving into a two-bedroom apartment in Seattle.

In many ways, Serrano's dream hasn't unfolded the way she'd imagined. At this point in her life, she thought she'd be married, with four children heading off to college themselves. Instead, she's 10 years divorced, with no kids.

"Some days I think, 'What the heck am I doing?'" she says. "But there is that 'Mexican faith,' that feeling that this is the direction I should be going in. I'm walking into an abyss, but still have faith that things will turn out. It definitely feels like the right move."

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