Meet some of the extraordinary graduates
from The San Diego Promise
Had it not been for the San Diego Promise, Jerusalen Davila would not have been able to attend City College after graduating from Hoover High School in City Heights. “I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” she said. She graduated with a 3.9 grade point average and is transferring to UC Berkeley where she will major in sociology.
“The San Diego Promise gave me the financial security and the mentors I needed,” said Davila, who earned an associate degree in sociology and aspires to a career in counseling and social justice. “When I got to City, I felt welcomed, I felt I had a support system in place already and I had individuals I could reach out to.”
Indeed, Davila quickly involved herself with the Puente Project, EOPS, First Year Services, and the Dreamer Resource Center. She took part in the Price Scholarship Program, joined the Honors Program, and was named to the Dean’s List all three years she was at the downtown campus.
She credits the San Diego Promise with helping her find herself at City.
“Being part of the college community and being involved with the different clubs and organizations makes a difference and provides you with a support network,” Davila said. “You can’t be afraid to reach out. You really have to make the most of your experience. City has definitely shaped who I am and helped me realize my potential. I wouldn’t have been here without the Promise.”
At UC Berkeley, Davila will be majoring in sociology with an emphasis in social inequity. She ultimately hopes to earn a master’s degree in the field.
Born and raised in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, Alexander Pesiri moved to San Diego and attended Cathedral Catholic High School, with the help of a needs-based financial award, after his mother began working with the Catholic Diocese of San Diego. “We were living month to month,” Pesiri said.
It was during a visit to Mesa College that he learned about the San Diego Promise.
“I wanted to go to university, but I was still in the process of obtaining my green card, and I was considered an international student,” said Pesiri, who first came to San Diego in 2015 but briefly returned to Italy during high school for health reasons. “The tuition at university for an international student was unaffordable. I looked at the community college, and the people at Mesa were extremely understanding and very welcoming. Then they told me about the Promise. Economically, it was a life saver.”
Pesiri, graduated with a 3.9 GPA (“It was 4.0 until recently” he said), earning an associate of arts degree in liberal arts and sciences — biological science. He transferred to UC San Diego’s new School of Public Health and aspires to attend medical school and become an anesthesiologist.
“The Promise has benefitted me immensely,” said Pesiri, who held out particular praise for San Diego Promise counselor Miriam Pacheco. “None of this would not have happened had it not been for the opportunity I had at Mesa College. The Summer CRUISE Program was wonderful, the Mathletics program helped me a lot, and the professors were extremely kind and extremely caring. I am very thankful.”
Gergio Ricacho was hoping to attend UCLA after graduating from Del Norte High School. Instead, he went to Miramar College via the San Diego Promise.
It decision turned out to be a great move. Over the past two years, Ricacho has visited Cusco, Peru, and Madrid through Study Abroad programs, he has served as a San Diego Promise mentor, he is part of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and he is active with the LGBTQ-support group Club SPECTRUM and campus social justice organization Miramar REACT.
“I’m super thankful for how things worked out,” Ricacho said. “Community college is a great option. It’s probably the best option, to be honest. My professors were super helpful, I always found opportunities to be involved, and everyone there is working with you to get you to the next level.”
Ricacho graduated with associate degrees in humanities, English, and social and behavioral sciences, having earned a 3.89 GPA. He transferred to UCLA, having saved more than $50,000 in tuition, fees, room and board by attending Miramar College his first two years.
“I went to Miramar because it was such an excellent option financially and provided me with a direct pathway to a University of California campus. The San Diego Promise really helped me get involved in school, and it helped me save enough money to do Study Abroad twice,” Ricacho said. “I’m going to miss the small campus environment at Miramar and the tight-knit community that exists here.”
Oscar Garza was leaning toward working as a laborer after graduating from high school — until a friend urged him to enroll at San Diego City College and an English teacher told him about the San Diego Promise program that would cover his tuition and help pay for his books. Two years later, Garza graduated with an associate degree in kinesiology and took a GPA in the neighborhood of 3.4 with him when he transferred to San Diego State University.
His long-term goals include securing a master’s degree in occupational therapy and a career as an occupational therapist, a profession with an average annual wage of more than $93,000 in San Diego County, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Once shy and unsure of himself, Garza said the San Diego Promise helped him develop his confidence.
“It changed my life,” Garza said. “The Promise provided me with so many resources, and City College provided me with so many activities to get me on track and keep me on track so I could pursue my education. If you’re lost in life, being here can help you out, 100%.”
A resident of Golden Hill, Garza — who is in the country through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — enrolled at La Jolla High School because of the educational opportunities it afforded. Getting there, however, required waking up at 5 a.m., taking a public bus to Einstein Middle School on the other side of State Route 94 and then hopping on a school bus to the La Jolla campus.
Garza thought his formal education would conclude after earning his high school diploma, and he was set on going to work as a construction laborer.
“I didn’t really have the motivation to go to college,” he said. That changed after a close friend who attended City College urged him to give it a try. About the same time, his English instructor at La Jolla High told him about the San Diego Promise.
Armed with this knowledge, his future would forever be changed. Garza took part in a San Diego Promise orientation, met with counselors, developed an educational plan, and enrolled in a personal growth class. He also was accepted into the San Diego City College Price Scholarship Program, which provides mentorship to incoming freshmen, affords invaluable volunteer experiences, and provides a $10,000 scholarship. While at City College, Garza has served as a mental health peer educator, “just educating people about mental health issues and letting them know about the mental health services that are out there.”
Brenda Torres, San Diego Promise coordinator at City College, has seen Garza evolve.
“I have had the great pleasure to see him grow, to see his confidence grow,” Torres said. “He is now a very focused individual committed to his academics and to helping others, and he will go far.”
Yolanda Granados earned a certificate in interactive media and computer programming at San Diego Continuing Education, earned an associate degree in studio art from Mesa College, and she transferred to Cal State Long Beach for her bachelor’s degree before embarking on a career in art therapy.
Just a couple years ago she was struggling to get by on a minimum wage job. She said she couldn’t have succeeded without the San Diego Promise.
“This was an opportunity I never had before in my life,” she said of the Promise. “I didn’t have to worry about books or tuition. You get one counselor assigned to you who is keeping track of you and your progress, and you get your school paid for. Yes, I’d say the Promise is pretty cool.”
Granados had given community college a try after graduating from Orange Glen High School in Escondido, but a lack of direction, a lack of money, and the need to work full time prompted her to give up. “It was bad,” Granados said. “It had hit rock bottom. I had to learn how to make $25 last two weeks.”
Several years of low-paying jobs led Granados to go back to school.
“I was at a point in my life where I was getting older and I wanted to get a certificate in a trade and get a better job and start a career,” Granados said.
She turned to San Diego Continuing Education’s North City Campus and its Interactive Media & Computer Program, an intensive program that meant classes at night and on Saturdays. While completing the requirements for her certificate, Granados heard about the San Diego Promise and applied. She couldn’t believe her good fortune when she heard she was accepted.
“I was really excited,” Granados said. “I think I started crying.”
The San Diego Promise allowed Granados to transfer to Mesa College with the 17 units she earned during her certificate program.
“My entire experience at the San Diego Community College District has been like one door being opened, and then another door being opened, and then another door being opened,” Granados said.
Unable to afford the rising costs of attending a four-year college or university, Marcelo Cong enrolled at Miramar College through the San Diego Promise after graduating with honors from Mira Mesa High School in 2017. Two years and zero debt later, he transferred from Miramar with an associate degree in physics to UCLA to study aerospace engineering.
Cong left Miramar College with a grade point average of 4.0 and two years of strong student engagement. He was among a small number of national finalists for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.
“I really couldn’t be happier,” Cong said. “Going to Miramar through the San Diego Promise worked out well for me. I would have had to have gone into debt to go straight to a four-year school from high school.”
Cong was born in Brazil and raised in Sao Paulo until he moved with his mom to Mira Mesa when he was 14. Cong heard about the San Diego Promise while at Mira Mesa High, where administrators and teachers made announcements whenever a student was accepted into the program. “The Promise was a big deal at my high school,” Cong said. “It created a lot of excitement.”
After enrolling at Miramar College, Cong became a Promise disciple, serving first as a Miramar College Outreach Ambassador and then a Miramar College Outreach Mentor focusing on the San Diego Promise. As an ambassador, Cong represented Miramar College and the program during visits not only to local high schools, but also in the community. As a mentor, he met regularly with a cohort of approximately 100 San Diego Promise students to check in on their academic progress and discuss any challenges they may be facing.
He faced more than his share of challenges along the way. After his mother was evicted from their apartment, Cong was forced to live in his car for several weeks until he could find a place of his own.
Current plans include earning a bachelor’s degree, gaining experience in the aerospace industry by working at NASA or a private company for a few years, then returning to school for a postgraduate degree.
“Marcelo is an intelligent, dynamic, and charismatic individual who is driven to succeed in all of life’s potential,” said Miramar College Student Services Technician Sara Haddad, who is Cong’s direct supervisor. “I am so pleased to have witnessed him flourish through his time at Miramar.”
Said Cong: “I’m very pleased with how everything is working out.”
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