In a remarkable achievement, Jorge Villegas Ruiz, a high school alum from Fontana, graduated from Arizona State University on May 8th, 2023, with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. As a first-generation college student and an immigrant, Villegas Ruiz faced numerous challenges on his educational journey, including language barriers and financial constraints.
Villegas Ruiz candidly shared his experience: “Being an immigrant, I struggled when I learned English. And when I learned English, I forgot Spanish. I received a D in Spanish class in high school because I was placed in native Spanish speakers, but the curriculum did not align with my language skills.”
Determined to make a difference and bridge the gap for future generations, Villegas Ruiz decided to pursue a degree that would allow him to draw from his personal experiences by mentoring students experiencing those same language barriers and continue to pursue his passion as a soccer coach.
His motivation to help others drove him to develop his language skills further. “Many of the words we learned were more neutral Spanish, but back home and in the community, we speak Latin American Spanish,” Villegas Ruiz explained. Eager to expand his impact, he revealed his plans to pursue a master’s degree in bilingual education and a teaching credential from National University in La Jolla, CA, starting next month.
Villegas Ruiz’s educational journey was with setbacks. He initially enrolled at National University in 2016 for his undergraduate studies but had to put his education on hold in late 2018 to focus on work and finances. When he returned in 2021, his program was no longer available. Undeterred, Villegas Ruiz persevered and found Arizona State University, where he completed his degree through an online program.
Reflecting on the unique circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Villegas Ruiz observed, “Unfortunately and fortunately, due to COVID-19, many colleges offered online programs. I would recommend to other Latinos who may be in a similar situation to myself to look into community colleges as they are cheaper and offer many online programs. Some even provide free tuition and books now, costing only a quarter of university education.”
The determined graduate emphasized that his accomplishment was not solely his own. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my family,” Villegas Ruiz acknowledged gratefully.
He sincerely appreciated his mother, Maria Ruiz, for her unwavering support since day one. Additionally, Villegas Ruiz credited his older brother, Inland Empire Community News’ Bill and Gloria Macias Harrison, and Armando Fresquez, head coach of the men’s soccer program at Jurupa Hills High School, for pushing him to overcome his time/scheduling conflicts as a part-time coach and pursue his dreams.
Villegas Ruiz’s aspiration to become a soccer coach remains unwavering. He shared, “Wherever I get hired as a teacher, I hope to become a soccer coach too.” With a new chapter on the horizon, Villegas Ruiz is set to start his master’s program in bilingual education in July, which he will complete online.
As a first-generation college graduate, Villegas Ruiz sees his achievement as a positive trend for his younger brothers, one of whom graduated last year and now attends California State University, San Bernardino. Villegas Ruiz’s success serves as an inspiration, showcasing the transformative power of education and determination to overcome obstacles.