In the past 48 hours, Jonathan Cornejo has achieved the seemingly impossible.
He’s committed to UC San Diego.
The 17-year-old senior at West Adams Preparatory High School has dreamed of attending the University of California campus since middle school, when he first saw fliers about the beautiful campus and then learn about the school’s strong science programs.
He knows very little about preparing for college. His mother, a single mother from El Salvador, did not know how to help him; She left high school after ninth grade. But she always encouraged him to study hard and follow his dreams. So he did.
As a freshman, he missed his first Advanced class – Spanish – even though he spoke the language. But he steadily improved his grades, scoring A and B in English, algebra and chemistry as a sophomore. Then got A’s in more AP courses – Spanish literature, biology, American history, government, and politics. His 4.0 GPA, achieved as student body president and yearbook editor-in-chief, earned him admission to the top-ranked UC San Diego.
But as the May 1st college commitment date approached, Jonathan almost turned down the offer. Instead, he decided to attend community college. Although his financial aid package provided $29,265 in grants — a federal Pell grant, a Cal grant, and a $10,368 institutional grant from UC San Diego — he did faces a shortfall of $4,000 to cover mandatory tuition, accommodation and living expenses.
His mother, who worked from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. most days with two jobs as a low-wage restaurant chef, couldn’t help him. His own income as a part-time Starbucks barista would not be enough. They don’t want to take out loans that could squeeze their finances further. He’s frustrated – even admittedly crying – because he can’t afford the school of his dreams, but he tells himself he’ll do his best.
Then everything changed. The Times wrote about his situation, which reflect the struggle of thousands among the state’s poorest students admitted to UC, but instead chose community colleges or California State University in part because of financial shortfalls. Other public higher education systems are more cost-effective alternatives, with many top faculty and rich educational programs, but have significantly lower completion rates than UC.
Offers of aid poured in. High school is flooded with calls. Times readers asked how they could help.
One reader wrote: “There is something about perseverance and perseverance that inspires.” “For Jonathan, he worked really hard in school, worked at Starbucks, had no father in his life and his mother worked two jobs. Despite the setbacks, he kept going and persisted. He’s the type of person you want to be with in life. That’s what led me (and I’m sure many others) to donate to him, despite never having met him.”
With so many offers of aid, Jonathan’s school counselor, Jacqueline Villatoro, helped establish GoFundMe page for him and his classmates, Emily Gramajo. Emily also decided to attend a community college because she couldn’t afford to accept an offer from her dream school, Cal State Northridge – but she committed to attending the university. this week after donor support.
“Jonathan is someone who always wants to do his best to make use of the sacrifices his mother made for him,” Villatoro said. “But his story is not alone. Many of our students at West Adams are in his situation. There are plenty of other people who could use extra help.”
To date, donors have raised thousands of dollars for two students. A nonprofit organization started by the late Episcopal Bishop Jon Bruno, Hands in Healing, awarded Jonathan a $10,000 grant. In this week’s interview with the scholarship committee, he described his passion for science and his desire to help people as a doctor after a close relative passed away from cancer. a few years ago. When committee chair Mary Bruno announced they would award the scholarship – and would consider renewing it if he continued to make progress in his studies – a grin spread across Jonathan’s face.
“I’m so grateful!” he say.
UC President Michael V. Drake, when asked about Jonathan and struggling students like him at a state Senate committee hearing on Thursday, said that UC is increasing financial aid and often has can find ways to help close the affordability gap.
Sometimes, he said, it’s the initial problem of college officials not making the right contact with students to let them know how they can afford to attend UC. He told committee members that UC San Diego officials contacted Jonathan and that he was able to commit to the school.
“We can find the answer,” Drake said.
Jonathan said he was surprised how many people he had never met were willing to help him with the costs of college. Late on Tuesday, he made his decision. He visited his UC San Diego applicant portal – and accepted the offer of admission.
“I feel like all these people are supporting me in pursuing my dream,” says Jonathan. “I don’t want to disappoint them.”