More than 2,500 students are graduating from Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges in June 2018. Here is the story of one remarkable graduate.
Fernando Lucero found his path at Cuyamaca College. The former gang member who survived a drive-by shooting and who was once kicked out of high school because of his grades is thriving at Cuyamaca College, is earning an associate degree in communication and is preparing to transfer to San Diego State University in the fall.
“I knew I wanted to go to college and I knew I wanted to pursue my education, but I had no idea where to start,” Lucero said. “Cuyamaca helped me find my way. This school helped me develop my wings so I could fly.”
Now he’s helping others at Cuyamaca College develop their wings. Although his next chapter in life will take him a few miles west to earn a bachelor’s degree in Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State, Lucero will continue working as a student mentor at the Cuyamaca College Pathway Academy. The program helps first-generation students and those from underrepresented communities navigate the journey to a degree, certificate or four-year college or university.
“I want to be able to help students who are just like I was, who may think they’re not college material, people who may not have the confidence in themselves. I want to them to know that, hey, I was you. You can do this. You can start planting the seeds here at Cuyamaca because of the community and because of the support that is available.”
Those who know Lucero say he is an inspiration.
“Fernando embodies what our college can offer our students,” said Jesus Miranda, associate dean of Student Equity and Engagement. “He not only is a great example of the opportunities that lie ahead for someone who is willing to put in the work, but he illustrates how our college is able to meet students where they are at and can help them realize their potential.”
John Escobedo, Pathway Academy program director, expressed similar sentiments. “He is a model of what we are all about,” Escobedo said.
Less than a decade ago, none of this would have seemed possible.
Born in San Diego and raised in Chula Vista and Logan Heights, Lucero said a lack of direction at home led him to start hanging out with gangs in middle school and get involved with gang-affiliated activities. By the time he enrolled as a freshman at Castle Park High School in Chula Vista, Lucero’s interest in education had waned. He failed all of his classes. He was expelled without competing a single course.
Lucero said it was the wakeup call that he needed. He enrolled at the nearby Chula Vista High School and began focusing on his education at the urging of his grandfather. When his family moved to Spring Valley a year later, Lucero enrolled at Monte Vista High School Learning Center, a dropout-prevention/credit-recovery program that helped him secure the units needed to graduate nearly nine months earlier than his peers.
“I gave it my 150 percent,” said Lucero, who commuted more than 90 minutes to Monte Vista each way via bus and trolley after his family moved back to Logan Heights. “I didn’t even see the commute as an issue. I knew that my education was too important, and I was doing really well at Monte Vista.”
He opted to attend Cuyamaca College after representatives from the Outreach Department visited the Learning Center and encouraged him to enroll. Once at the Rancho San Diego campus, Lucero said, “I was committed to going above and beyond and doing whatever it took to succeed.”
That was in 2014. Helping him stay on path was his work as a peer mentor with the Pathway Academy. He also works as a professional DJ off campus and as a cashier at the One Stop Center on campus.
“A lot of other departments here want to steal him from us,” joked Escobedo. “He is a very confident, very effective communicator who is sharing his knowledge and experience to help incoming freshmen get accustomed to our college and the services we offer. And he is making a difference.”