Making the most of a second chance

As a kid growing up in Salinas, Calif., Rolando Perez displayed an unusual academic and technical aptitude, and once dreamed of becoming an astronaut. But by the time he was in his mid-20s, he found himself on a path that, he says, “was going to wind me up either in prison or dead.”

Drifting between jobs, with a rap sheet of minor offenses and a list of close friends lost to gang violence, Perez ultimately resolved to turn his life around.

Rene Amel Peralta

Against the odds, chemistry grad finds a path out of poverty

By the time he was 6, Rene Amel Peralta was already working full time in construction and odds jobs in Mexico, just trying to survive. By 13, he and his sister had been abandoned by their only parent and had made the treacherous journey across the border.

But without immigration papers or an education, poverty followed.

On Saturday (June 13), Peralta and his sister both will defy the long odds that were stacked against them, and be awarded college diplomas.

Their goal now: Help others from similar circumstances.

UCLA commencement

New UC grads share tales of triumph

As UC's newly minted grads look forward to embarking on a bright new chapter, we profile a few whose extraordinary grit and determination brought them to the place they are today.

Tamela Adkins

Newly minted UC Merced graduate completes path from career to college

On the 10-year-old UC Merced campus, Tamela Adkins is as veteran as they come.

The emergency preparedness manager was among the first employees at the newest UC campus when it opened its doors on Sept. 5, 2005. Last month, the 53-year-old became one of its oldest students to be awarded an undergraduate degree.

It was a journey that began almost by accident.

Getahun Weldeselassie and family

Hard work, ambition and a winning ticket fueled escape from Ethiopia town's poverty

In the state of Tigray in northern Ethiopia, poverty and unemployment were rampant and very few had the fortune to go to college. But Getahun Weldeselassie nevertheless banked on education as his best shot at a better life.

He scarcely could have imagined just how far his ambition and luck would take him.

Last month, Weldeselassie completed the doctor of pharmacy at UCSF. Now a U.S. resident who lives in San Francisco with his wife and young son, he looks forward to a career that offers personal satisfaction while providing a stable livelihood for himself and his family.

Cassie Nguyen

Diagnosed with brain cancer at 16, she didn't let her illness rule her life

Graduation is always joyful, but for UC Riverside’s Cassie Nguyen, it marks a milestone achieved with an especially large measure of persistence and hope.

Nguyen, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in public policy from UC Riverside on June 14, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at 16. Treatment has cleared her of the disease, but it has not been an easy ride.

Andre Theus

Former foster youth finds family, purpose on UC campus

Andre Theus will don his cap and gown June 13 at UC Santa Barbara with a list of accomplishments that includes lobbying in Washington and Sacramento, leadership in student government, and numerous honors and awards. Perhaps best of all, he graduates with a job in business development waiting for him at Oracle in San Francisco.

It’s a record worthy of pride for any student. But as a former foster youth, his prospects might have been very different.

2014 across UC

In many ways, it was a very good year at the University of California's campuses and labs.
UCSD students - Teach for America

Dozens of students join Teach for America

Record-breaking 37 students prepare to teach in underserved classrooms across the U.S.

President Obama celebrates class of 2014

He punctuates speech on climate change before 6,000 new graduates with a hearty “Zot! Zot! Zot!”