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Is Education the Focus of Your Life?
It is for Mario!

by Nick Anis
Nick Anis


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, and self-motivation.

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 scholarships.

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 successful life."

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 choice.

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 Barbara).

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 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 year.

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 dollars.

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 training.

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 extra credit.

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!

Occidental College
1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041-3314 

Phone: 323-259-2500
Fax: 213-259-2958
Web: http://www.oxy.edu 
 
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

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Nick Anis is a food, wine, and travel and technology writer with over 24 books in print published by McGraw-Hill, Random House, Bantam, Ziff-Davis, Tab, and others. Nick's articles have appeared in The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, West Coast Media, The Family Publications Group, The Weekly News, and Travel-Watch.  His beats include food, travel, snow and waters sports, entertainment, family recreation, consumer electronics, home improvement, and automotive.  He is responsible for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published by the Long Beach Press Telegram.  Nick is an accomplished downhill skier, PADI certified SCUBA diver, and when he's not sitting on his butt goofing off, enjoys a variety of active recreation including tennis, riding motorcycles, ATVs, wave runners, snow machines, horses, skeet and trap shooting he's also taken a stab at riding camels, donkeys, elephants, ostriches, lamas, dolphins, Reindeer, bulls, mechanical bulls, and buffalo.  Nick is a member (A Secretary/Treasurer) of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), a member of the North American Snow Sports Journalist Association (NASJA), Computer Press Association, The Writer's Guild, and listed in Books in Print, Media Map, and Press Access.  You can reach Nick at Editor@Travel-Watch.com.

 

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