Julian Ramirez has graduated from UCLA after overcoming a childhood of abandonment by his family and thanks to a program that benefits young students in difficult situations.
Deprived of any family life by his father's violence and his mother's drug addiction, Ramirez spent almost all his childhood in foster homes.
"For 10 years I was in more than five different temporary homes," he told Efe.
He recalled that once during that time his parents obtained custody of him and his five siblings for about a year and "we thought everything was going to be okay."
"Then my parents started having the usual problems and again we were sent separately to different families," said Ramirez, who was 6 when he first understood that his family was breaking up.
For the recent political science graduate, none of the families he lived with gave him a real home.
"I was never put in a home full of love. I always felt rejected and I felt that my temporary parents were never really interested in taking care of me," he said.
"One of the worst things that happened when I was a kid was that no one, not my social workers or my parents or my teachers, really believed in me. I was lost in the massification of the public school system and I had no one interested in helping me cultivate my abilities."
While still a youngster he lost contact with his father, a Mexican-American who grew up in a small agricultural community south of San Francisco.
"My father is in jail and I haven't had much contact with him since I was a teenager," he said.
In his efforts to overcome his daunting situation, Julian found wrestling to be an ally, a light at the end of the tunnel.
"In high school I had a passion for freestyle wrestling. I was captain of the team and that was one of the few places I played a leadership role. Wrestling gave me the work ethic I needed to get good grades at school."
After finishing high school he enrolled in De Anza Community College in Cupertino southeast of San Francisco with very little money. "I had to face extreme poverty and sometimes I had nowhere to sleep."
Two years later he transferred to UCLA and there, thanks to the Bruin Guardian Scholars program, he obtained financial aid and scholarships that enabled him to graduate two years later.
"Bruce Barbee was my mentor in the UCLA faculty. He always pushed me to do better and give the most I could. He believed in me when no one else did and supported me when everyone else lost interest," the young man said.
Ramirez is planning a sojourn in Japan to teach English because "I've always wanted to travel outside the country, but because money was scarce I never left California. Los Angeles is the farthest I have been."
He also hopes to continue his postgrad education in preparation for helping the needy.
"My plans are to do a postgraduate course and eventually take my master's degree in public health. I want to give back something to my community and help marginalized people achieve their goals," he said.