Nothing to Lose and Everything to Gain: Becoming an Aggie at 33 - Lorenzo Zúñiga  '16

Lorenzo Zúñiga 
Lorenzo Zúñiga outside Sproul Hall where he serves as an advisor to LangLit students. Lorenzo graduated from UC Davis and is pursuing an MA in English Literature at CSU-Sacramento. Photo: Daniel Oberbauer

Lorenzo Zúñiga 

Undergraduate Advisor, Languages and Literatures

This is what makes me Lorenzo Zúñiga 

I am an immigrant who is the son of immigrants. My mother and father grew up in Ceballos, Durango, Mexico. My parents only had the opportunity to study until the third grade;  they were told that they were too old for school and had to work to help out their family.

My parents worked hard growing up. My father worked with my grandfather in Texas and Oklahoma. My mother was the oldest of 10 children and helped raise her siblings. She also helped my grandfather with his cattle farm. My mother was 16 and my father was 24 when they married. My mother had me at 17; I was born in the same impoverished pueblo as my parents. When I was five-months old, my parents immigrated to the United States and ran across the border with me in their arms. We made it to East Oakland, California where my mother and father did their best to provide a better life for me than the one they had. My mother was a babysitter and cleaned houses, and my father was a landscaper and a roofer.

Although we lived in poor neighborhoods where gang violence, prostitution, and substance abuse were a daily image, the love that my parents gave helped me get through the obstacles I encountered growing up. 

As a teenager, I did not take advantage of the educational opportunities my parents provided, given their sacrifices. I was not a good student. When I graduated high school, I attended community college for two years, but I dropped out and became a roofer.

Pursuing my educational goals: Nothing to lose, and everything to gain

I was really unhappy with my life since I did not take advantage of my education. There was no future as a roofer, and I was not going to be happy with who I was without a college education. At 29, I enrolled in San Francisco City College. This experience changed my life. At SFCC, I met great people who cared about my education because they wanted me to succeed. I developed a love for literature and majored in English. I graduated with Associate Degrees in Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, and English.

At 33, I transferred to UC Davis.

Transferring was difficult and I struggled to find my confidence. As a non-traditional student, I studied and worked full-time as a roofer. The biggest fear I had was the fear of not being good enough for school and that I was going to be convinced school wasn’t for me. I realized I had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. I quit my job, becoming a full-time student. It was challenging, but I wanted my education, and I wanted to accomplish my dreams. I am grateful for the dedicated professors who encouraged me to not give up.

A big part of transferring to a university like UC Davis is having confidence in knowing you can succeed. Without confidence it is hard to find your sense of belonging.

You are never too old to improve. At 29, I was able to go back to community college, transfer to UC Davis, and graduate with a double major in English and Spanish. Anybody can achieve their goals.

UC Davis can feel like a culture shock when you come from a background similar to mine, but remember that you belong because you have done the work to get here. UC Davis is a place where people come to improve themselves. Everyone has the right to improve their lives. My life, and background, is the evidence I share with my students at UC Davis.

I am currently working on a M.A. in English Literature at Sacramento State University, and I hope to pursue a Ph.D. in English Literature. I will keep using my past, present, and future experiences to improve as an advisor for UC Davis students. I hope to be an example and inspiration for people who share my similar background. I want everyone to have the opportunity to experience the things in life that seem unreachable.