For anyone who thought a higher education was out of reach, this next person may change your mind.
His name is Rutilio Castor Jr., and he's an aspiring English major at the University of Southern California. He loves to write, and has his mind set on becoming an English professor someday.
Sounds pretty great considering that not too long ago, Rutilio was struggling with low self-esteem and drug abuse. I had the opportunity to sit with him and learn a little about the fight to turn his life around. What I found was nothing short of inspirational. For those of you considering college, his story raises an important question: What are you waiting for?
Rutilio was born in Los Angeles in 1980. His parents raised him in a small Mexican town known as La Sauceda in Michoacan. It was here where Rutilio's parents worked hard in order to feed their family with three children.
Here is my interview with Rutilio. I'm most certain you will be moved by his story.
WS: Growing up, did your parents feel education was important?
RCJr: My mother was raised to believe that women should not get an education. Her father told her that school is not for women. She was forced to work in the fields in order to help provide for her younger siblings. My father studied up until high school, where he eventually dropped out to work in the fields as well.
WS: Did your parents explain to you how important it was to get an education?
RCJr: Yes. My parents taught us the importance of receiving higher education. They did not want us to follow in their footsteps and wanted us to do well in school. As a kid, I was always a very good student. I was always set as an example for others and would always be at the top of my classes. However, living in a small town, I did not know anything about higher education. I had no idea universities existed or that there was a life outside the town I was living in.
WS: So you were always an excellent student?
RCJr: No. Things changed when I entered South Gate High School. At this point, I was very insecure. I stopped caring about my education and started to do very poorly. I would fail classes on purpose because my insecurities had led me to believe that failing was cool. I was no longer trying to get good grades even if I knew the subject matter. I would sometimes just do enough to get me through the class. Other times I would just show up to class to get some sleep.
WS: You truly believe that it was "cool" to fail?
RCJr: Yes. That was my belief at that time. I was really insecure and had transformed into a very negative person.
WS: What was the result of the negative thinking and failing grades?
RCJr: I started getting drunk every weekend with my friends. The only reason I decided to finish high school was because I knew it would make my parents happy. I had become the stereotypical metal head who only wants to get drunk, and listen to loud music. I did not care about anything else.
WS: Was alcohol your only substance of choice?
RCJr: No, I also smoked marijuana almost everyday. Eventually I managed to get my hands on some LSD once and decided to try it out. I felt like I was caught up in a different world and I did not like that feeling at all. Eventually I got tired of smoking marijuana and gave up on it.
WS: So is it true what they say about marijuana being a "gateway" drug?
RCJr: It was for me. About a year after graduating high school, I picked up another habit which was cocaine. Over time, it had become my drug of choice. I can go as far as to say that I loved it. I loved the feeling I would get while I was on it. Not only did it make me feel like I was in control, but it also gave me the confidence I lacked. I always told myself that doing drugs was a mental thing and that I was able to stop at will.
WS: So what made you finally let go of the drugs?
RCJr: I was working at a dead-end job and I had nothing to show for it. I did not even own a car.
I would usually walk to and from work. I had grown tired of the life I was living. After hundreds of nights of looking at myself in the mirror and seeing what a pathetic person I had become, I knew the only way to move away from everything was to start all over again. However, I did not know how to go about things.
WS: But you eventually found a way. Tell me about that.
RCJr: The security company I was working for had lost its contract. In order to continue working there, I had to sign a new contract. I saw this as the opportunity I was looking for. At the advice of the girlfriend I had at the time, I decided to enroll at Los Angeles Trade Tech as a student of the machine shop program. With a new beginning, I decided to kick all my habits away. I was 23 and was ready to start all over again.
WS: At what point while at LA Trade Tech did you set your eyes on USC?
RCJr: My English professor Robert Mancia noticed my talent for writing and encouraged me to pursue a degree in English. I eventually met another English professor named Lisa Moreno, who suggested I do the same. She was the one who advised me to join the USC Scholars program which helps community college students transfer to the university of their choice. It was there where I learned more information about the university, and eventually applied.
WS: Were you confident about getting accepted? USC is a pretty tough school to get into.
RCJr: When I applied to USC, I was very confident. I was so confident, that I only applied to USC. I did not care about any other school. I felt my story was compelling enough and my grades were good enough to attend the school. I would drive by the school everyday and would say "I'll see you soon." After I submitted my application, the Scholars program had set up a day for us to visit USC. Upon setting foot on the campus, I got this feeling of belonging. I remember telling the director of the Scholars program that I knew I was going to be there the following semester.
WS: Tell me about the moment you found out that you got accepted into USC
RCJr: After a long day at work I got home and saw a big envelope from USC waiting for me. I had heard from a fellow peer of mine that if the school accepts you, you get a big envelope in the mail. I was in total shock. There was a letter inside congratulating me and that I had been accepted. The moment is hard to describe because I started to think about how hard I worked to earn this. I got all chocked up and was filled with joy. At first I could not believe that USC thought I was worthy of attending their prestigious institution.
WS: That's pretty amazing.
RCJr: Yes. I think that all my personal struggles have made me a stronger person and today I view my education as my main priority.
WS: So what's your advice for other Latinos out there who aren't sure about how important it is to pursue a higher education?
RCJr: There's always obstacles one must overcome in order to learn from them and grow. At 29, I feel that I've been given a second chance and I am not about to screw it up. I have been told that school is not difficult, life is difficult. It is life that makes school difficult and it is something that I agree with.
Rutilio plans to complete his double major in English/Spanish and go to graduate school to get a master's degree in education. His new goal in life is to become an English professor and inspire other students to pursue higher education the way his former professors did for him.