AP NEWS
Related topics

From Shelter to Stanford, Homeless Teen Attends Top University

September 28, 1989

OXNARD, Calif. (AP) _ A 17-year-old girl who lived in a noisy homeless shelter and whose mother was a migrant farm worker has worked her way with high grades and scholarships into Stanford, the state’s most expensive university.

″Ever since I can remember, we’ve been poorer than poor,″ said Maria ″Lupe″ Vasquez. ″I would think the only way out is to get married. The only other way, my mother would tell me, is through education.″

On Wednesday, Ms. Vasquez started classes at Stanford University, where she plans to major in engineering, pursue a doctorate degree and enjoy the kind of social life that eluded her in high school.

″I want to have my freedom,″ she said. ″I want to have fun.″

She’s the pride of the Zoe Christian Center homeless shelter.

″Lupe is the culmination of 11 years of working with the poor, and we finally strike gold,″ said the Rev. Jim Gilmer, the center’s director. ″Lupe was such a blessing to us.″

Ms. Vasquez, born in Chihuahua, Mexico, was 2 when her parents divorced. She and her mother, an itinerant onion picker, and a sister moved to Arizona, where they lived in a series of small apartments.

Her mother remarried and had three more children, and the family of seven moved to Oxnard, squeezing into a boarding room with three beds, a table and a policy against children.

Every time the family heard the landlord coming up the steps, they went out the back way and hid in abandoned cars behind the building, said Ms. Vasquez.

From the boarding room, the family moved to the homeless shelter, a relief at first for Ms. Vasquez because she could count on a bed and regular meals.

Despite life in the noisy shelter, Ms. Vasquez did extremely well in school, graduating second from Oxnard High School in a class of 397 last June and collecting so many awards and scholarships that the year-end honor ceremony was jokingly called ″Lupe Vasquez Night.″

″She has the basic tools to start with and the work ethic along with that,″ said Paul Orseth, her teacher in honors classes in economics and government.

Ms. Vasquez applied to six colleges, was accepted to all of them and chose Stanford, the most expensive university in the state with yearly costs topping $21,000.

She’s paying for her education with a collection of grants and scholarships and money from a 20-hour-a-week job at the shelter. The shelter also gave her a donated used car and $1,000 for spending money.

AP RADIO
Update hourly