REGION — It’s been said everything happens for a reason.
Two years ago Richard Huizar was hard-pressed to find one that would explain why he was denied federal financial aid, a decision that meant he would have to decline his acceptance to San Diego State University.
But this past May 7 that reason became abundantly clear.
During his final semester at MiraCosta College, he learned he had been accepted to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the nation’s premier schools.
“I was walking to class and I got a message on my phone from the transfer decisions office,” Huizar said. “But it took a while to open it. I kept trying and trying. When I could finally read it I couldn’t believe it.
“I told everyone I could,” he added. “I ran to the president’s office. I kept reading it all day.”
Huizar, 19, grew up in San Marcos and is a 2012 graduate of Mission Hills High School. But his family roots stem back to Eden Gardens, where his grandparents, Eduardo and Conception Huizar, were raised and currently live in the home they purchased 54 years ago.
Their grandson plans to major in applied mathematics and minor in engineering. Once he earns his degree, in about three years, he will be the first in his family to do so.
“We’re so proud,” his grandparents said.
Huizar applied for and received early acceptance to SDSU in 2012. As he made plans to begin classes there that fall, he learned in early summer he didn’t qualify for any financial assistance from the federal government.
With tuition out of reach and no plan B, Huizar wasn’t sure what his next move would be until he met Solana Beach resident Lisa Montes, MiraCosta’s student services specialist in the Office of School Relations and Diversity Outreach, while touring the Oceanside campus.
“I thought community college would be a step down, but when I learned about all the opportunities the school has it changed my perspective,” he said.
After doing well in his first-semester classes, Huizar started to rethink his options. If he kept up his grades he was guaranteed admission to the University of California San Diego and Merced.
“I looked at MIT but that was just a dream,” he said. “It didn’t seem possible. But Miss Lisa said I should go for those schools. She said I had a chance.
“After my first year, that was my goal,” he added. “I was going to do everything I could to get in.”
That he did.
During his two years at MiraCosta, his grade-point average of 3.5 or higher landed him on the President’s List. He was an honors scholar in a program of specialized courses designed to develop exceptional academic ability in highly motivated students.
He was also a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and president of the Soccer Club.
Additionally, Huizar was one of five students to receive the Medal of Honor, MiraCosta’s highest academic award, which is given to students who are nominated by faculty and earn a minimum 3.5 GPA.
He also worked 30 hours a week at three campus jobs. He was a specialized tutor helping underprivileged and underrepresented students in lower-level math classes.
He also tutored students in upper-level differential equations mathematics and was a student ambassador, visiting area high schools to talk about college in general and opportunities at MiraCosta.
A straight-A student save for one B in an advanced English class his first semester, Huizar graduated with a 3.9 GPA and was selected to give the commencement address at the May 20 ceremony.
He was introduced as a “superstar” and an example “that a community college education can lead to astounding academic heights.”
“Anything is possible here,” he said in his speech. He also told his fellow classmates they have a responsibility to apply their education and give back to the community.
The latter, he said, is important because he knows how important those around him, including Montes, other administrators and several professors, have been to his success.
“I’ve been allowed to get where I’m am today because of hard work,” he said. “You don’t get anywhere if you don’t put the work in. But it’s also the community, other people wanting to help. That’s why I’m able to do so much.”
He is visiting Massachusetts and the school for the first time this month. He said he is a little bit nervous about the weather but is looking forward to the challenges and experiences that lie ahead.
“Ever since I was young I knew I had an academic aptitude and I loved math,” he said. “It wasn’t a struggle for me. I’ve always wanted to be around people with similar mindsets because I’m a competitive person. I do my best when I’m competing with others.”
In addition to MIT, UCSD and UC Merced, Huizar was accepted to the University of California Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Riverside.
Once again he did not qualify for federal financial aid, but with a $44,000 scholarship from MIT, the Cambridge school turned out to be the most affordable.
Huizar has saved about $6,000 from his three jobs and hopes to earn another $3,000 this summer. He plans to take out student loans to make up the difference, but said he is open to anyone who wants to help him out financially.
He can be reached at [email protected]