Time and time again we are told how important it is to apply
ourselves in primary, middle, and high school so that we can get into a
good college, get a degree, and pursue a good career. Just think of
K-P-J-M. If you go to college you get K-nowledge, which gives you greater
P-otential which leads to more J-ob opportunities, which in turn, gives
you more M-oney. How much money? Well, according to the latest census and
other studies, employees with four-year degrees earn about $18,500 more
per year; even people with two-year college degrees earn quite a bit more
than workers with only a high school diploma.
It's hard to think about how a college education will yield you Knowledge,
Potential, Jobs, and Money when you're growing up. There are so many
distractions, and we go through so many changes in our lives as we
transform from action figures and cartoons to snowboarding, cars, and
dating. Unfortunately, most K-12 students worry about their friends, their
physical appearance, fitting in, and all sorts of other things; school can
and often does take a back seat.
It certainly does help to have the support of one's parents - not just
financially, but intellectually and emotionally. Knowing someone cares and
having his or her encouragement, support, and love sure helps - especially
when you're young.
But that's not always possible. There are kids who have had to make their
own way without the benefit of parents or the guidance and encouragement
we all so very much deserve. Regardless of the support you have, your
success in life is directly related to how much effort you make. Think
about it for a moment. Is education the focus in your life? Education has
played a major role in the lives of many of the successful members of the
Hispanic population in the United States, as has hard work, dedication,
A case in point is Mario Cruz. Since losing his parents at an early
age, his focus in life has been studying hard so he can attend a good
college and obtain a degree and make something of himself. And it hasn't
been easy for him because he has had to do for himself many things not
normally required of kids in primary, middle, and high school.
The next time you're bummed out because you didn't get the specific
birthday or Christmas present you wanted, or because your parents offered
to buy you a car, but insisted that you earn the money to pay for the
insurance, or because your parents wouldn't get you some designer jeans at
the mall, consider something for a moment: What if you didn't have any
parents or guardian and all the responsibilities of life rested on your
shoulders? Believe it or not, gifts and cool clothes wouldn't be as
important to you because you would be thinking more about basic needs,
such as your rent, utilities, and food.
Few kids would fair as well as Mario, who is an eleventh grade honor
student. In spite of being parentless, and of limited financial means,
Mario has stayed on the right track, worked hard, and excelled in school.
This extraordinary young man has managed to achieve perfect school
attendance and a 4.0+ GPA. He is a Junior Class Officer (ASB), Key Club
Officer, and an active member of the California Scholarship Federation
honors society and La Raza Unida, an Hispanic pride, unity, and
philanthropic organization; and besides studying hard and getting very
good grades, he also performs volunteer work and works after school and
weekends, earning what money he can.
Mario came to the United States with his brothers and sister at an early
age. His parents enrolled him late into school. About 11 years ago,
Mario's father took off and a year later Mario's mother died of cancer.
Mario's father was declared by the court to be an abusive and unfit parent
and his family was split apart. Mario's sister went to live with relatives
in Mexico and his younger brother went to a family in Southern California.
An uncle, who was of limited means and who had several children of his
own, reluctantly became the guardian for Mario and his two older brothers.
Before long, the three boys were mostly on their own. Rigo, who is now
21, did so well in high school he managed to secure a full scholarship at
Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. Juan, who just turned 19,
is about to graduate high school. He's going to go to a nearby community
college. Mario, who just turned 18, has been dreaming about going to
college since middle school. When his older brother managed to get a full
academic scholarship to Occidental, Mario really became hooked.
"That's it," he said to himself. "I'm going to do what Rigo
did. I'm going to work hard, study hard, not miss any classes, and do all
my assignments." Mario somehow got the idea that if he worked hard
like his older brother, he too could obtain a scholarship and go to
college (even to a top notch school like Occidental).
But how much does a junior high school kid really know or understand about
scholarships and college entrance requirements? Mario didn't know it, but
the scholarship he was vying for might very well not exist anymore in 2002
when he graduates. And that even with a perfect GPA (such as Mario has
been able to achieve), the competition can be stiff for these
As the years progressed Mario began to realize that getting that coveted
scholarship was going to be much harder than he thought. He had no one to
talk to about it or to reassure him, "Don't worry, Mario ... you can
do it ... you are going to make it." So Mario had to turn to a
memory. He remembered his mother, whom he loved very much. She had told
him many times when he was just a little "nino" that he was a
good son, and that she knew he was going to do well in school, and that he
would go on to college; because graduating college was the gateway to a
The high school Mario attends in Southern California has 2,000 students
and about 40% of them are Hispanic. Twelve percent of the students at his
high school are college bound; but only 3.5% of the school’s Hispanic
students go on to college.
If she were still alive, Mario's mother would be very proud of him
because he has done extremely well in school. In fact, he's in the top 2%
of his class, he has a 4.0+ GPA, and he has NEVER missed a day of class.
He's working hard at school to keep his grades up and he is also preparing
extra hard for the SATs. He wants to be accepted to some good colleges and
hopefully, obtain a scholarship. Actually, although he is considering
other "great" schools like the University of Southern
California, California State University Los Angeles, and California
Polytechnic University, Pomona, Occidental College is Mario's first
Occidental College, founded in 1887, is in the Eagle Rock section of Los
Angeles in Southern California. Oxy is one of the longest-standing
colleges west of the Mississippi. This school offers a world-renown
liberal arts education program and is consistently rated in the top tier
of nationally recognized liberal arts colleges.
The curriculum consists of 22 separate majors in 20 departments, and an
additional 10 interdisciplinary majors. It has combined-plan programs in
liberal arts and engineering with Columbia University, the Art Center
College of Design, and the California Institute of Technology.
Oxy has the distinction of being ranked first in the nation for the
past four years in iversity by US News and World Report. It has an
enrollment of 1,700 students. The students mix this year is 14% Latino,
17% Asian American, 6% African American, 1% Native American, and 54%
White. There are 54 full professors, 41 associate professors, and 28
assistant professors, all of whom hold a doctoral or similar degree, plus
15 instructors. About 46% of the faculty are women.
When visitors, like first lady Laura Bush who visited on March 22nd
2001, come to Oxy, one of the first things they comment about is the
beautiful master planned campus. It was designed by famed architect Myron
Hunt who also designed such Southern California architectural marvels as
California Institute of Technology and the Ambassador Hotel )Los Angeles),
the Huntington Library (San Marino), the Rose Bowl (Pasadena), Pomona
College (Claremont), and the Bank Building at 1000 State Street (Santa
The beautifully landscaped Oxy campus is built on a pristine 123-acre
hillside plot blanketed with native flora, vegetation, and trees. It's
shaped like a quadrangle and filled with spectacular native Live Oak Trees
laced with gray Spanish moss. The Mary Norton Clapp Library is at the
South End, the Thorne Hall auditorium is at the North end and they are
flanked by classroom buildings and the original student center, built in
the 1930's but recently modernized and expanded. You may have already seen
the Oxy campus without realizing it because it has been used in movies,
such as Jurassic Park and television programs, such as Beverly Hills
90210. The campus is also a popular venue for weddings.
Mario is impressed with the school because "Oxy is just the right
size; class sizes are small (averaging 22), and students don't get lost in
the shuffle." In spite of Oxy's smaller size, it's very well equipped
and has excellent programs and teachers. Oxy has received accolades for
its excellent performing arts and sports programs; and the school has a
world-class library with over ½ million volumes, 300,000 documents, a
massive rare book collection, and robust online access for students
including wireless capability in all classrooms, and T1 Ethernet
connections in all the residence halls (dorms). Each residence hall and
the library has a computer lab for students.
The tuition and fees for the 2001-2002 school year are $25,184 and room
and board charges are $7,093. Between 65% and 70% of the students live on
campus, because, as spokesperson Jim Tranquada puts it, "There is
also a great deal of learning that goes on outside the classroom."
Tranquada also points out that "students who live off campus most
often do so because they are participating in one of our 17-country study
abroad, or Occidental of the United Nations, or Washington DC programs.”
According to Oxy's financial aid office, approximately 70% of
Occidental's students receive some form of assistance, including
grants-in-aid, loans and student employment; the average amount awarded
from all sources for 2001-2002, including the College, is $17,000 per
Prominent Latino Oxy alumni include Ernesto Galarza '27, historian, poet,
labor organizer and community activist; Jesus Trevino, film and TV
director, currently directing "Resurrection Boulevard"; Mike
Hernandez '74, former Los Angeles city councilman; and Hector De La Torre
'89, South Gate Deputy Mayor.
You know what? Mario does have a decent shot at a scholarship with
Occidental. Realizing the competition is stiff, Mario is "cautiously
optimistic" about his chances. It turns out that a lot of community
leaders have begun to notice Mario. He has been recognized by a number of
government officials including U.S. Congressmember Gary G. Miller,
California Governor Gray Davis, City of Pomona Mayor Eddie Cortez,
California Assemblymember Bob Pacheco, U.S. Congress member Jerry Lewis,
California Senator Pete Knight, California Assemblymember Keith Oldberg,
City of Victorville Mayor Terry E. Caldwell, Los Angeles City
Councilmember Jackie Goldberg, City of Chino Mayor Eunice Ulloa, City of
Industry Mayor David Winn, City of Los Angeles Councilmember Joel Wachs,
Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, California State Senator Jack
Scott, his school district, The Rotary, and others for his outstanding
character, academic achievements, and community service.
An incident last summer should give you some insight into this young man's
character. Mario attended summer school last year for extra credit. While
doing some volunteer work for the school, a sudden gust of wind blew a
sign into his face and injured his eye and cut his face just above the
eyebrow. Mario had a test that day and he wanted to remain and take his
test instead of leaving school and going to the hospital. Besides, he
didn't have any medical insurance or money to pay medical bills. Not
knowing his financial situation, the person in charge at the school
insisted Mario leave school and go to the hospital.
Luckily, a co-worker noticed Mario walking to the hospital and gave him
a lift. The hospital had generously agreed to treat Mario and write off
his bill. After being treated at the emergency room and getting stitched
up, the doctor gave Mario a prescription, told him to go home, take some
pain medication, and go to bed. Immediately upon leaving the hospital,
Mario walked back to school (which was 2 or 3 miles away), finished the
day's classes, and took his test - which he aced. The hospital bill was
eventually written off as promised, but there was a mix up and the
doctor's bill wasn't. Rather than complain or walk away from his
responsibilities, Mario worked extra hours at his job and did some odd
jobs so he could pay off the doctor bills, which were several hundred
Unlike most high school juniors, Mario has no parents and must do his own
laundry; cook his own meals, and do shopping and housework. While doing
all these things for himself, Mario has to attend school, do his homework,
and study - and as an honors student, he has lots of schoolwork!
Mario lives with his brother and cousin who are seniors in high school.
He works after school and on weekends to pay his share of the rent,
utilities, and food. He has a difficult life, but he remains positive and
upbeat. He loves school and he's looking forward to going on to college.
He wants to work as hard as he can to get good grades and achieve a high
SAT score to increase his chances of being accepted to a good college, and
perhaps even get a scholarship.
In remarks entered into the Congressional Record last summer,
Congressman Gary Miller said, "Mario's commitment to education is
demonstrated by his perfect attendance record and excellent grades. His
ability to excel in school is made all the more impressive when one takes
into account the exclusive attention he gives to his home duties, while
additionally helping to support himself through work and occupational
Despite losing both of his parents at a young age, Mario has remained
positive and dedicated to building a prosperous personal and community
life. Mario's overwhelming triumph over difficult and challenging
circumstances is both moving and inspiring.
Mario's long list of educational accomplishments include attaining
excellent grades, being in the top 2% of his class, achieving perfect
attendance, serving as a Junior Class Officer and Key Club Officer,
attending after-school occupational training and summer school classes for
Mario's decision to remain alcohol, tobacco, drug and gang free and his
unlimited future potential serve as an invaluable and exemplary model of
dedication, honesty, determination, strength of character and success for
his community and peers.
Respected and well liked by all teachers and peers alike, Mario Cruz
embodies the finest qualities of America's youth ...”
Mario has certainly had his share of adversity to overcome: Having an
abusive parent, losing his mother, being separated from his siblings, and
having to become self-sufficient far sooner than his contemporaries.
Mario has done a good share of community service work. He and fellow
students in his organization have collected donations for women who have
been abused by their husbands. He has participated in the "Human Race
Project" by working with schoolmates to collect donations for
children who have a disease and need money for their expenses. And,
working on his own, he has been helping to build computers for
underprivileged kids and families and teaching them computer use.
Mario's only motivation in helping people has been to be "a good
person" but he has recently been advised that performing more
community service work will raise his scholarship eligibility. So, he is
going to try harder to do even more volunteer work this summer. It's
especially difficult for Mario to work as an unpaid volunteer, because he
also has to work to support himself while attending high school. Sometimes
it seems that if you need a scholarship too badly, you can't get it. All
the extra curricular activity Mario does makes it harder to work enough
hours to earn a living; and he has to come up with money to pay for his
SAT exams, and for each of the college applications he submits, and in
some cases, for deposits. The system doesn't seem to be geared to serve
the students with the greatest need. But Mario says it doesn't matter,
because he is going to do whatever it takes to reach his goal.
Mario has been attending and applying himself in school, paying
attention, keeping on top of his homework assignments, studying hard,
taking a SAT preparatory course, and also preparing for the SATs by using
home study guides and CDs from the Kaplan Company. He will be busy this
summer. He has signed up to paint houses for the poor as a volunteer in
the Paint Our Town project, he will be working as a volunteer for One to
One Mentors, and he will be briefly interning at a congressional office.
He is also planning on attending summer school for extra credit. Besides
being in the top 2% of his class, and achieving perfect school attendance,
it's too bad there aren't ratings for motivation and effort because this
kid would be off the charts for that rating too!
1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041-3314
Nick Anis is a local freelance writer. He has a degree in Business
Management and Computer Science and a lifetime California College Teaching
Credential for Business, Computer Science, and Communications. Nick Anis
has 24 books in print, published by McGraw-Hill, Random House, Bantam,
Ziff-Davis, and others. You can reach him via email at NickAnis@aol.com.
Photos: Hispanic Student association members at Oxy, Rigo Cruz at Oxy,
Oxy campus, Mario Cruz, Mario Cruz at High School