Patrosinio Cruz says he “hates school but loves education.” 

Although he dropped out of high school, disengaging from the structured school system he says failed him, that didn’t mean he felt like he knew it all. The San Fernando Valley native took on two jobs, one in pest control and the other at Home Depot, went on a Christian mission in the Cape Verde islands in Africa, and learned Portuguese and Creole.

After two years abroad that shaped his understanding of the world, Cruz returned to school at age 23 to earn his GED, enroll at Los Angeles Valley College (where he became a school ambassador and graduated with honors), before transferring to UCLA to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education and social transformation. 

“I’ve learned to cherish every experience as knowledge that no one else has,” said the now-29-year-old Cruz, who is set to graduate this week and who will be attending the Raza Graduation celebration.

Just a few years ago, Cruz saw an ad for the UCLA Center for Community College Partnerships while waiting in his counselor’s office at Valley College. His counselor put him in touch with the Center for Community College Partnerships’s site coordinator, who took his application despite the deadline having passed. 

Cruz remembers the coordinator asking him if he had ever considered UCLA. 

“My only answer was, ‘Why would UCLA want a high school dropout?’” he recalled. 

The coordinator responded by immediately placing Cruz into the center’s Power to the Men of Color transfer experience, part of the “Power to” series that provide resources for people from underrepresented communities who are considering transferring to UCLA.

Cruz also took part in the center’s transfer intensive summer program, joining other students from two-year colleges to spend a week on campus living in the residence halls.

As part of the program, UCLA students mentored participants, helping with college applications and searching for scholarships, which are tasks transfers from Los Angeles community colleges don’t always have the resources to do, Cruz said. They also plugged some UCLA-specific resources, like the undergraduate writing center and UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services.

When he got into UCLA, Cruz said he felt like he already had a community on campus and was familiar with the resources that would set him up for success. 

“The Center for Community College Partnerships guided me through community college and helped me believe that I belonged at an institution like UCLA,” said Cruz, who immediately joined the center as a mentor.

Cruz has been going back to LAVC every Tuesday since in-person instruction resumed in winter quarter to meet with students hoping to transfer to a four-year university. Before that, he mentored over Zoom. Cruz said he sees himself in some of his mentees, especially those having to push through mental barriers like doubting themselves academically.  

Cruz says his mentees often subscribe to the stigma of transfers being “less than” their peers, as he often felt in classes with freshmen straight out of high school, who had been top of their class. Cruz hopes that showing up as a mentor proves that while he wasn’t afforded the same experiences in high school as his classmates, he can use his journey and the wisdom he’s acquired to create connections with other students.

“Patrosinio would take it upon himself to answer questions, give advice and even be a presence within the community to help incoming and returning students thrive at UCLA,” said Conor Nordmeyer, assistant resident director for Sproul Hall where Cruz lived and worked as a resident assistant for the Chicanx/Latinx living learning community.

Normeyer says Cruz was asked everything from “Where is this building on campus?” to “What type of car insurance should I have in L.A. and why?” Cruz’s age and experiences also influenced his academics, guiding him toward the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies. 

Cruz had entered UCLA as a Chicana/o and Central American studies major, but by spring quarter of his first year on campus, he decided to change to education and social transformation studies while keeping Chicana/o and Central American studies as a minor. Cruz plans to get his master’s in education and eventually a doctorate. 

“How can I somehow understand this system that failed me?” he said. Cruz often looks back on growing up in schools that made him feel like he was the problem. Despite doing his best, he says he was always made to think he was the one choosing to fail. 

“In all the education courses I take at UCLA, I look at myself and think ‘OK, that’s why my journey and education was that way,’” Cruz said. 

Although his main academic focus shifted during his time at UCLA, Cruz, who is Oaxacan, did not waiver from opportunities to immerse himself in and learn more about Latino communities. In fall of 2021, he joined Grupo Estudiantil Oaxaqueño De OOKLA (UCLA), a student club that promotes and preserves Indigenous Oaxacan culture within UCLA and Los Angeles. 

“Patrosinio’s focus on creating and fostering a community makes him unique,” said Nordmeyer, who often noticed Cruz going out of his way to ask people how they are doing, say hello to students or even invite them to workout or to get something to eat. 

Between Cruz’s mentoring and downtime (which he loved to spend at the gym in the Wooden Center  dead lifting and squatting four to five days a week), he became involved with the UCLA Academic Advancement Program, where he conducted research on understanding resources for high school dropouts attempting to pursue a higher education.

Cruz also engaged in community-based research on juvenile incarceration as a participant in the Astin Civic Engagement Scholars. In May, he presented his findings on educational opportunities in juvenile jails and prisons at UCLA Undergraduate Research Week.

“It’s been a really hectic two years,” said Cruz, who is looking forward to a slightly scaled back summer in which he will serve as a resident assistant for the Bruin Guardian Scholars Program and help plan trainings for incoming resident assistants. 

After that, he will take a gap year before applying to graduate school. In a way that’s very on-brand for the education scholar who hates school, Cruz says he needs to continue his pursuit of a worldly and experiential education — a yearning that only got stronger during his time at UCLA.