The fact that Luis Diaz is alive right now, let alone a high school graduate, is nothing short of miraculous.
“He has an indomitable spirit,” Ramona High teacher Ann Sullivan said. “He doesn’t let life get him down at all. It’s amazing. And if you could bottle it and sell it, you’d be a millionaire.”
If you ask Luis about his childhood, he’s hesitant to go into much detail. He was born in Mexico but moved to the United States when he was 5 years old. He suffered neglect and physical abuse at the hands of his mother. She would often leave Luis and his younger brother to fend for themselves while the family was homeless.
“My childhood mainly is painful and I try to repress most of it,” Luis said. “I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. But I didn’t feel necessarily sad. Just kind of hurt. There was just so much physical pain I had to endure.”
Luis missed six months of school while living on the streets. As a result, he had to repeat the first grade. But the trauma from his early childhood was a bigger issue. He spent more than a decade in the foster care system due to his mother’s drug addiction. Luis fell into a deep depression that lasted for several years.
“To hear the story that Luis came from just tore my heart,” teacher Scott Lockman said. “I almost wanted to tear up. No student should go through that. I was just thinking about what he came through. Not having a mom and dad. And the drugs. And the homelessness. All of that.”
Thankfully, at Ramona High, Luis found the family he never had. The school’s AVID program helps first-generation college students prepare for life after high school.
“I really feel the AVID program here at Ramona High School was the catalyst to help him ensure that he doesn’t fall through the cracks,” Ramona High counselor Mark Lim said.
Lockman also credits AVID for helping Luis find his self-confidence.
“I really believe that being part of a program like AVID, being part of an AVID classroom, a family, gave him the support that he needed,” Lockman said. “Gave him the motivation that, ‘Yeah. I can do this. I can really do this. This is really possible. College is really possible for me.’”
When asked where he would be without AVID, Luis gave a blunt answer.
“I would be a drop out,” Luis said. “No question about it. I would be a drop out. In a way, AVID was a second family to me. And I found family through friends. And that’s the only family I really loved and known.”
It would have been easy for Luis Diaz to drop out of school. Instead, he sees his education as a chance to break the cycle and move past the pain.
“Being the first one to go to college in my family. That’s just kind of like an enlightenment of a new world. No longer will I have to look at the past. I’ll just kind of focus on the future.”