Oxnard Grad Follows Siblings' Path to Success

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When it comes to graduations, Carmen and Jose Garcia know the drill.

They had attended six for their high-achieving children at Oxnard High School alone. Then there were the college ceremonies. Three at Stanford. Two at Cal State Northridge. One at Humboldt State University. One at UC Berkeley.

On Friday, they were back in the bleachers at the Oxnard High School stadium to see 17-year-old Alex, the second-youngest of their eight children, pick up his diploma.

Alex was one of 558 members of Oxnard High School's Class of 2001 honored. Wearing red and gold caps and gowns, the graduates walked onto Clarence Houser Field and listened to fellow students perform and deliver nuggets of inspiration.

It was a similar story throughout Oxnard Union High School District and Ventura County on Friday, as the second day of this year's high school graduation season wrapped up.

"It feels pretty good," said Alex, who wore special gold cords distinguishing him as a California Scholarship Federation scholar.

The accomplishments of Alex and his six older siblings are especially impressive in light of the fact that his family, immigrants from a tiny town in central Mexico, grew up in a two-bedroom house shared by 11 people in downtown Oxnard.

Jose worked in the fields during the day, Carmen worked a swing shift in packinghouses and laundermats, and the oldest three children sold flowers on street corners after school and on weekends to help make ends meet.

"In Mexico, we didn't have the opportunity to study because we had no money," said Carmen, who has only about a sixth-grade education. "Here, the opportunities are readily available. That's what we wanted for our kids, so they wouldn't end up like us with no schooling."

Alex, who at an early age was enrolled in the school district's Gifted and Talented Education program, said he quickly found that his parents' lack of money made him different.

Although at times it seemed like a barrier, the teenager said he thinks that growing up poor helped motivate him in school.

"My parents instilled in me the value that education is the best way to get anywhere in life," Alex said. "I had to do with what they gave me, and it made me stronger."

Family members know that what they have achieved is unusual simply because, Jose Garcia said, most people don't believe him when he tells them that all his older children have bachelor's degrees.

Rafael, 31, is an electrical engineer; Roberto, 30, is a school administrator; Jose Jr., 28, is a mechanical engineer; Roman, 26, is a teacher at Frontier Continuation High School; Beatriz, 23, is a community worker at California Rural Legal Assistance; Monica, 21, just graduated and plans to go into social work.

"The school has been impressed with the commitment their family has made to education and success," said Oxnard High School Principal James Nielsen. "Alex exemplified what other members of the family have done."

Although Carmen and Jose Garcia were exceedingly proud of Alex on Friday, they are not finished. Alex, who aspires to be a sound engineer, will head to Notre Dame University in the fall. David, their youngest at 13, has yet to start high school. Monica and Jose Jr. both have their sights set on graduate school. And then there are the grandchildren.

Carmen doesn't show her emotions often, Monica said, but she can usually be found crying in a corner at graduations. Last week, thinking about her second-youngest son leaving home, Carmen's brown eyes filled up.

"All of my children have done so well," she said. "Only by crying can I show how happy I am."

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