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Source: UCSD News Center

Photo:  Graduate Leon Sanchez Reyes (left) with his sister and two younger brothers.

June 14, 2018 (San Diego) --This year, UC San Diego’s class of 2018 will be having the majority of commencement ceremonies on Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17.  A total of 7,449 students will take the stage this weekend as this year’s graduating class participates in the campus’ various commencement ceremonies. Among the students is Leon Sanchez Reyes  Just two weeks before starting his first year at UC San Diego in 2014, Sanchez Reyes’ parents were deported. The immigration agents explained to him that his parents were going to be sent back to Mexico and nothing could be done about it.

“I felt abandoned and full of anger. Not at my parents, not at the officers—they were only doing their job—but at the system for leaving four children without their parents,” said Sanchez Reyes. The next night, Sanchez Reyes and his siblings met with their parents in Tijuana, discussing schooling and housing plans. Sanchez Reyes had secured housing on campus for his first year, but his parents and siblings had to relocate to Tijuana and then Rosarito.

When the question about whether or not Sanchez Reyes would continue school came up, his parents and siblings encouraged him, the first in his family to enroll in a four-year college, to not give up on his dream of higher education. “I wanted to set [school] aside because I knew I would be the only source of income,” he said. “I needed to take over my father’s small landscaping business he had established in San Diego, but at the same time, I wanted to break from the cycle and earn a degree.”

During his second year at UC San Diego, Sanchez Reyes, who majored in cognitive science, decided to move to Rosarito, and commuted to and from campus, so he could drive his sister and little brothers to school in the U.S., and help care for them. While juggling school and a full-time job, Sanchez Reyes had to wake up at 3:30 a.m. to leave Rosarito and cross the border, averaging a two-hour wait time, or longer, during holidays. He had to drop his siblings off at school by 7:15 a.m. and then head to work or attend classes beginning at 8 a.m. In between large gaps in his class schedule, Sanchez Reyes would have go to work and come back to attend lectures, often covered in grass and/or dirt. Most days, he would not get home until 6 p.m., when he would squeeze in studying or homework before having to wake up early the next morning to doing it all over again.

His busy schedule didn’t halt Sanchez Reyes from exploring research opportunities though. He participated in UC San Diego cross-border initiative where he worked as an intern on mitigating trash and sediment that flows into the Tijuana Estuary. When asked how he managed to balance work and school in addition to caring for his family, Sanchez Reyes said he prioritized school over work, saying, “I decided that there will always be work; and I was not going to let my one shot at receiving an education from a prestigious university go down the drain.”

Now, he is graduating with a B.S. in cognitive science with a specialization in human cognition. Sanchez plans to enter the workforce in the mental health department, becoming an Applied Behavior Analysis therapist to help children with autism develop better motor and communication skills. Sanchez Reyes has always been interested in giving back and helping his community.

As a San Diego native, he’s long been involved in a community organization, Latino Youth Council—now referred as ACE—a youth council to help change the perception of drugs and alcohol among teens. Moving forward, he plans to work in the private sector for the next few years and wants to return to school for his master’s degree. “Family is my motivation, especially my siblings, because despite the drastic changes in lifestyle, they have not given up on their plans and dreams,” he said. “I want to be their role model despite the difficult hardships. One needs to always look forward towards the ultimate goal. A barrier cannot define whom we want to be.”

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