Tomas Alejandrez was a homeless drug addict living on the streets of Fresno when he was 39. Now 47, he is set to graduate from Cabrillo College on Friday with three Associates degrees.
He is one of 1,240 that will participate in the college’s virtual graduation.
Alejandrez’s story begins from those days in Fresno, when a judge told him after a petty theft charge that one more legal slip-up would land him in prison.
Alejandrez wanted to avoid that fate, but had no other way to support himself. And so he picked up a Sharpie marker and a piece of cardboard. He then scrawled a sign and began panhandling.
But that life was also unacceptable for him.
“There were times where I literally had to eat out of the trash,” he said. “I remember taking a bath out of a Taco Bell faucet with a little bucket. The streets are no joke. It’s crazy out there.”
Finally, Alejandrez’s father came to get him, brought him to Watsonville and enrolled him in Si Se Puede, a sober rehabilitation living environment based in Pajaro.
A few months after that, he enrolled in Cabrillo. After earning degrees in human services, liberal arts and sociology, Alejandrez plans to pursue Latin studies and sociology at UCSC in the fall.
He was also accepted at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, but he says he wanted to stay close to home to help care for his father, who is now homeless himself and living in a “broken RV.”
His time there will be funded in part by a $20,000 Karl S. Pister Leadership Opportunity Scholarship Award, which went to one student at the school.
Alejandrez is undecided about what career he will seek once he graduates. But he knows one thing for certain: He wants to work in the human services sector, helping people facing troubles similar to the ones he overcame.
His main message is to not let your past define you: “You can rewrite your next chapter.”
“I want to be able to help people believe in themselves, and I know that it can be done,” he said. “But one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t do it all. You need help. And there is so much help out there and so many people that want to help. There were so many people that believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself.”
According to Cabrillo spokeswoman Kristin Fabos, 358 graduates and 115 non-graduates intend to transfer to four-year universities.
For the first time in Cabrillo’s history, 50% of Cabrillo’s graduating class of 2021 is Latinx.
This year, Cabrillo awards 1,066 A.A. degrees and 499 A.S. degrees.
Cabrillo graduates also earned 253 Certificates of Achievement and 209 Skills Certificates. The graduates range in age from 17 to 73, with an average age of 27, Fabos said.
Of the total graduates, 66% are females and 33% are males.
Cabrillo College’s virtual graduation ceremony will be held Friday at 4pm. To see it, visit cabrillo.edu/graduation.