JIMMY RAY TORRES
IN HIGH SCHOOL, I was your classic underachiever. I never took academics seriously.
But the idea of college was always there, just below the surface. In 2012, when I was 29, I became the guardian of my niece. To go from single man to single parent overnight was overwhelming. I needed a steady job, and I got one: I joined the landscaping staff at UCLA.
Maybe it was the beauty of the campus, or the encouragement of a buddy. Or both. But I was inspired, and decided to go to junior college. They asked me, “Where would you want to eventually transfer?” and I blurted out, “UCLA.” The audacity — who did I think I was? But I studied my butt off, got good grades, became the student I’d never been in high school.
Still, it felt like a half-court shot, applying here. On the application, I talked about how I’d fallen in love with UCLA while caring for its grounds. And about my niece and the role model I wanted to be for her.
I waited five agonizing months. I was playing softball at home when the phone pinged: “Your admissions decision is ready.” It took me an hour to summon the courage to open it. Finally, I took a deep breath and clicked.
I saw “Congratulations,” and dropped to my knees. I scooped up my 10-year-old niece into my arms and ran through the house, alternately whooping for joy and stunned speechless. It was so cool to share that with her. Because now this is the norm for her. We were a family; now we are a family that goes to college.
DID YOU KNOW?
Students from more than 90 COUNTRIES attend UCLA
GROWING UP IN PASADENA, UCLA and the Rose Bowl were part of my upbringing, and I’ve cheered on the Bruins at endless football games. (Now I have an official reason.) When I found out I’d been accepted at UCLA, I started sobbing. My manager at work thought something was wrong. But they were tears of joy.
I have always cherished the chance to learn about different cultures and share that knowledge to create greater understanding. It’s something I’ve discovered through many trips to the Netherlands, where I have explored my Dutch roots, and also at home, diving into my African American heritage. In high school, I was active with the Black Student Union and also served as a docent for a traveling Anne Frank exhibit. I once traveled to Borneo as a volunteer for a conservation organization that’s helping the Bornean sun bear. So you might say I am the definition of multicultural: I love helping people connect with my cultures and each other’s. In all of my travels thus far, I have learned so much — about other ways of life, about the people of the world, about myself.
As a global studies major, I know UCLA will help me continue on this path. I have dual citizenship with the U.S. and the Netherlands, and it’s a huge part of who I am. Soon, I will be a citizen of UCLA, which is a new and different and amazing way of being a citizen of the world. And I can’t wait.
Watch the Decision Day video
SOME PEOPLE HAVE A CLEAR VISION of what they want to do with their lives. I didn’t.
In 2014, I joined the Navy, finishing active service in 2020 before going into the reserves. The expected route from there would have been to use my new technical skills to get a government job. But I wanted something more. I wanted, I realized, to go to college.
UCLA was not really a thought. How was I ever going to get into UCLA? I hadn’t excelled in high school. So I went to community college, where, because I was finally ready, I thrived.
Then I found out that an ex-supervisor had applied to UCLA — and gotten in. Suddenly, I thought, Well, if he can do it, maybe I can, too? I was a bit intimidated, but I applied.
There was a lot riding on it. I got married in 2015; I have a daughter who turned 3 in March. I wanted to build a future for myself, but really for them.
Near the end of April, I was lying on my bed, surfing my laptop, when the notification pinged. My wife was next to me, watching TV, oblivious. I clicked and saw the news. I’d made it.
I was stunned. My wife looked at me quizzically and said, “What’s going on?” “I got my results for UCLA,” I said. I showed her the screen. She went crazy. I managed to keep it together, but inside I was doing flips.
I’m going to major in psychology. And now I’m dreaming even bigger: I want to go to medical school. Thanks to UCLA, I’ve learned no door is ever closed forever.
DID YOU KNOW?
Almost 2/3 of incoming freshmen last year identified as FEMALE
When I was in third grade, my basketball coach gave each player a piece of paper and asked us to write down our life goals. I listed: Get a scholarship. Go to UCLA. Average 20 points a game. Even at the age of 10, I was laser-focused on coming here.
My brother, Jaime, plays for the men’s team, and so everyone assumes that influenced me. And look, I am really excited to be on campus with him, both at our dream school. I attended a UCLA camp when I was very young. I listened closely, learned what I had to work on. (And boy, did I work on it.) Coming to UCLA was my dream from the beginning.
I think Cori Close M.Ed. ’95, the Bruins women’s basketball coach, knew that. She emphasized that if they made an offer, it was going to be because they wanted me, not Jaime’s little sister. That was important to me.
But would the offer come? The longer the process dragged on, the more anxiety flooded my body. I got other offers, and after each one, my friends chanted, “UCLA’s next!” I wasn’t positive.
I was outside a friend’s house, shooting baskets (OK, dunking), the day Coach Cori finally phoned. I told my friends, “I gotta go,” and walked inside to talk. She said, “We would like to offer you a scholarship to play at UCLA,” and my eyes welled up. After all this time, it was finally happening.
I staggered out of the house and my friends swallowed me in hugs. I am so grateful, so excited, so blessed. I can’t wait to begin my journey.
Read about the first-gen student experience in “The Bruin Pioneers”
MAYA KAUR PASSANANTI
I HAVE ALL THE SHIRTS.
My mom went to UCLA Law School. My dad was her — and thereby UCLA’s — biggest fan. He bought himself a bunch of UCLA T-shirts to wear to show how proud he was. After he died from cancer 11 years ago, my mom gave them to me. I’ve slept in them ever since. They make me feel close to him.
The minute I set foot on the UCLA campus for a tour, I felt at home. I adored all of it: the grounds, the people, the vibe. I love that so many different cultures come together here. As a multiracial student — I’m of Indian and Italian descent — I have often felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I do here.
During high school, I discovered a passion for journalism, photography and helping others, all things that have made me happy. When girls were finally allowed to join the Boy Scouts of America, I knew I had to sign up. Now I’m about to become one of the first female Eagle Scouts in the world. I want to carry all my passions forward through life and see how they — and I — can grow. I’m excited to start that journey at UCLA.
On the day I looked at the portal and saw that I’d been admitted, I was in complete shock. In that moment, I felt my dad was there, cheering me on.
You won’t see me in my Scout uniform on campus. But you might occasionally spot me in a well-worn, much-loved UCLA T-shirt.
The Next Gen
YOU MIGHT SAY THAT UCLA is literally in my blood. My parents met here in the early 1990s. You wouldn’t think a comms major (Mom) and a physics major (Dad) would be a good mix, but maybe opposites really do attract.
I’ve been going to Bruin Woods Family Camp since I was 5; by first grade, I knew the eight-clap. I went to UCLA basketball camp my sophomore year of high school and fell hard for the campus. Much of it was the magic of UCLA, but there was, I think, also the knowledge that my own life was determined here.
College was not automatically in the cards. I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, and it’s been a long and often arduous journey through school. Zoom learning had also taken a toll. I could only present myself as honestly as possible. Struggling with autism, I felt being true to myself was the only path forward.
I was in my backyard with two friends who had also applied to UCLA when they got notified about their status. One was rejected, the other wait-listed. They were both highly qualified students I thought had a great shot at getting in. My heart sank.
Then my email came. I opened it and started reading, and my eyes went saucer-wide. I was in. In! My friends crushed me in a bear hug. My parents rushed home. My mom pulled into the driveway, leaped out of her car, and we hugged and cried.
At UCLA, I plan to use my voice for neurodiversity advocacy, helping to make the university even more inclusive for students like me. I will also be representing the next generation of Bruins in our family. More important, I will be representing my most authentic self.
DID YOU KNOW?
MONTANA was the only U.S. STATE that did not send a student to UCLA last year
The Freedom Fighter
Like many people, I have been blessed with a great best friend. As fate would have it, I was Facetiming with her when I found out I had gotten into UCLA. I am not, typically, someone who shows a lot of emotion. But I started crying. Because this was a dream that almost didn’t happen.
When I was 15, my parents were unjustly imprisoned in my homeland of Turkey. They were professors who did not agree with the current regime, which had just survived a coup attempt and was out to label anyone who opposed it as terrorists. Suddenly, I was left alone to care for my 6-year-old sister. I stood tall for her, but alone, at night, I cried. The warm, loving, fairytale-like life I’d been living was over.
I had to grow up — fast.
My parents were eventually released, but, fearing for my safety, they sent me to California to stay with friends. I didn’t speak a word of English. They promised to follow, but the threat of being re-arrested led them to escape to Greece. Their passports expired. I have not seen them in person since.
I was determined to do them proud. I spent high school working to create harmony between Turkish and American cultures through a nonprofit, and I completed the honors program at my community college with the hopes of someday becoming a human rights lawyer and continuing this work for justice. And I dreamed of attending UCLA.
Now that dream is coming true.
Many students overcome tremendous hardships to make it to UCLA. Benjamin Frandsen is a prime example. Here, he writes about his singular journey from being incarcerated to fulfilling his mother’s dying wish.
The chrysalis of any meaningful life consists of its challenges. Though pain and struggle are relative, I doubt many stories like mine will appear in university magazines. In 2003, I was arrested by the FBI. The government was seeking the death penalty. Every tale of slaying our proverbial dragons, of painful lessons, must start somewhere. This one begins with a burglary.
In 2002, two men burglarized a house; the resident killed them both. I was neither the resident nor one of the burglars, but I was sent to prison for 18 years before the state finally unraveled it all and set me free last December.
Two years after my arrest, my mother submitted a partial manuscript of her memoir to the PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship put on by UCLA — and won. She planted a seed in my mind, that when I gained my freedom, I might attend the illustrious school that sponsored her fellowship. Before cancer took her in 2013, she made me vow to finish her book, but I could never find an ending. While awaiting my release, I enlisted a friend’s help to apply to UCLA. Without computer access, I had to dictate my essays over the phone and trust him to submit the application.
I received nine UCLA promotional emails back — but no acceptance. So, I went to the admissions office to get an answer. As I stood there uncertain, I reflected on a line from my mom’s manuscript about the first day of my trial: “In my bag is a tiny white pullover shirt stamped ‘UCLA Hospital,’ the first thing my son wore on the day of his birth.”
“Last security question, Mr. Frandsen,” said the clerk. “What city were you born in?”
Startled, I pointed out the window. “I was born in that building over there.”
“UCLA Hospital?” She checked her screen and smiled. “Westwood. There it is.” She pressed “print.” “Welcome to UCLA.”
As the clerk presented my acceptance letter, I heard my mother whisper, This is how the book ends. Goosebumps prickling my flesh, I blinked away tears. My mother’s story had ended. But my new chapter had only just begun.
Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Fall 2022 issue.