Spotlight | Class 2020 – First Generation College Student is Building His American Dream

This story is part of a series of profiles the Ventura County Office of Education is presenting about outstanding graduating seniors in the Class of 2020.

IMG_1680crJesus Martinez remembers taking trips to Malibu with his mom when he was younger – not to enjoy the beach or the restaurants, but to help with her job cleaning houses and hotel rooms. “I grew up fast and I lost a lot of my childhood because I had to work at a really young age,” he says. 

In school, Jesus lacked much of the support that many kids take for granted. His mom came to the US from Mexico with a grade school education and was unable to help him with homework or with navigating the educational system. He often took care of his little sister while his mom worked. “I definitely think it made me a better person and focused me on setting goals,” he says. “I realized my mom had no choice but to do this kind of work. I knew that using education as a way out was what I needed to do.”

And that’s exactly what he did. With the love and encouragement of his mom and stepdad, he is graduating near the top of his class at Hueneme High School. He took a full slate of advanced placement classes and did a wide variety of extracurricular activities. He was captain of the varsity basketball team, tutored at-risk students and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. And throughout high school, he spent his weekends working a landscaping job to bring in extra income for his family. 

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All of his hard work paid off when he found out he was accepted to the college of his dreams – UC Berkeley, which is one of the top-ranked universities in the world. He plans to study architecture and hopes to return to Ventura County to start his career. He says his mom and stepdad couldn’t be prouder. “There’s just a lot of love. They’re proud of me and it’s just great,” he says. “They sacrificed so much for me and I’m just blessed.” 

Jesus says he owes a lot to the teachers and staff at Hueneme High School. He remembers when he was a sophomore and the pressures of school were taking their toll. He was feeling hopeless about his ability to make it to a university, so he went to see his counselor Katalina Martinez. “She was actually the first person who sat me down and told me this is possible. She believed in me when I hadn’t started believing in my dreams, and I appreciate that a lot.”

For other kids like him who have extra hurdles to overcome in school, Jesus has this advice. “At times it can get very lonely and very overwhelming,” he says. “My advice is to think of the end goal and focus on that vision.” He’s proud to be living proof that with perseverance and dedication, that vision can become reality. 


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