Growing up in Brazil, Pedro Borges had teachers and school administrators tell him that he would never “graduate from anything” and would end up in picking up garbage.

For a while he was living up to those expectations; he quit school in sixth grade to work as a secretary alongside his grandfather in a law firm. When the family moved to California several years later they settled in the Bay Area and Borges’ English vocabulary was only “please,” “thank you” and “where’s the bathroom?”

By junior year, Borges had a full-time job in construction and ended up completing high school through an online program for which he said he did the bare minimum. After three years in construction, he worked as a waiter, barista, pizza maker and office worker.

A brush with the law and a court case that lasted two years (and five public defenders) marked a turning point in his life, Borges said. With an eye toward proving his good character to the court, he asked his high school ESL teacher for a letter of reference.

“When I went to meet her, she gave me a motivational speech and told me I should go to college,” said Borges, who is set to graduate with his master’s degree in Latin American studies from UCLA through the departmental scholar program in the UCLA International Institute.

“Not in a million years would I have ever imagined where I am now,” said Borges, a first-generation college student who earned a bachelor’s in sociology at UCLA last year.

Read the full story about Borges’ journey.