Before being encouraged by his counselor to go to college, Maximus Gastelum thought he had no other choice than to join the workforce after high school. Now, after starting his second year in the communication studies program at San Diego City College his future has changed.
Gastelum's story was recently made public through a statement issued by his school, Morse High School, where he talks about his freshman experience and his goals for the future.
Believing in Himself
Gastelum comes from an immigrant Mexican family, his family is originally from Jalpa, Zacatecas, and Ensenada, Baja California, after coming to the U.S. they decided to settle in San Diego.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it because of my surroundings,” he said. “Coming from southeast San Diego, I grew up in low-income housing and didn’t have anyone to look up to who could help me navigate college. It was either sports, work, or gangs in my neighborhood and I chose sports.”
In addition, Gastelum’s grades during his last year in high school were not good enough for college. So, with nobody to look up to, college-wise, and poor grades, he felt lost. It wasn’t until his high school counselor, Mr. Wegner told him that he had potential and he should look into higher education.
“Mr. Wegener would tell me he saw my potential and talked to me about City College,” said Gastelum. He applied for and participated in Signing Days at Morse, a milestone event that marks the celebration of students committed to pursuing an education past high school.
Gastelum was chosen among other 10 high school students to receive the 2022 Jim and Jan Sinegal Presidential Scholarship, which provides $2,500 toward tuition and a MacBook. “Achieving this scholarship not only supports me but also my family,” he said. “My mom and dad are very proud.”
His Leadership Work
In his second year at City College Gastelum is part of the San Diego Promise, works as an Outreach Ambassador, and is the vice president of the Umoja program.
“Umoja is big at City College; it means a lot to a lot of people. For me personally, Umoja is more than a program, it is a culture, it is a family, and it is love. Growing up in the Southeast, I have always embraced Black and African American culture. I like that we learn through an African lens,” Gastelum said. As vice president of Umoja, I do my best to help organize events for our campus but most importantly have the responsibility to be a leader within my community and lead by example not just academically but also as a person”.
As an Outreach Ambassador, he has been able to go and encourage other teens, who just like him, may have doubted their abilities and opportunities to go and succeed in college.
“My dad told me I won the lottery because I earned the scholarship and became an Outreach Ambassador right out of high school. As an ambassador, I have the opportunity to return to my high school and many other high schools in San Diego to share my story with other students like me”.
Gastelum is proud of his work at City College where he feels his life has changed for the better. “Not only the college itself but the people here have truly been influential in my experience here at City”.
After his graduation from City College Gastelum is looking to transfer to a UC University.“I graduate in spring 2024; my first choice would be to transfer to UC Berkeley in the fall followed by UC Los Angeles, UC Santa Barbara, or UC Davis,” he said.
Gastelum wants to use his degree in communication studies to use his voice to help others.“If it is through being involved in the educational system, coming back to San Diego City College, or even just working someplace where people need to be heard on a bigger stage”.