When Jason Lopez ’19 (Brown) turned 16 years old, he started working alongside his mother at a local carwash. He was young, active, full of energy and ready to earn some money to help his family. “I had the best of intentions and was ready to go, but that first day was rough,” remembers Jason. “By the end of the day I was physically ill.” Jason gets choked up talking about his mom’s willingness to take on back-breaking manual labor to provide for her family. “I never heard her complain. She was an example of courage and determination,” Jason says. “It’s something I absolutely respect about her.”
While Jason continued to work during the summer and on school breaks, that first day at the car wash was a significant turning point in his life. “I knew I wanted to find a better future for my family, and I knew that meant working harder in school.”
Jason approached his junior year in high school with a winner-takes-all mentality. He got involved with extracurriculars, joined the student council, took AP classes and set substantial goals for his academic progress. “I pushed myself to improve, to be better,” Jason says. “I continually asked myself, ‘How can I be more involved? How can I do more? How can I study smarter or harder?’” Jason set an exhausting schedule for himself, but he kept the carwash job in the back of his mind — he wanted a better lifestyle for his mother, his siblings and himself.
During his senior year, Jason began formulating an educational strategy that would work with his limited resources. He would start out at a community college, get his general education credits out of the way and then transfer to a four-year school. His AP government and economics teacher, a Rice alum, had other ideas. He encouraged Jason to apply to Rice, explaining Rice’s need-blind admission policy and generous financial aid packages. “A lot of my success has come from teachers who cared,” Jason explains. “They saw how hard I worked, maybe they saw my potential, and they helped me find my way.”
Now, just weeks from graduation, Jason is set to begin a job with Ernst & Young in its mergers and acquisitions department. He’s determined to use his education and skills to fulfill the promise he made to himself after that first grueling day at the carwash. “Now that I’m about to graduate, I envision giving my mom some time off,” Jason says. “I want her to have the opportunity to pursue a passion. I want to be wholly supportive of my family, not just financially — although that’s a big part of it. I want to show them that we can move forward and secure a better lifestyle.”
Jason is forever grateful to the donors who made his Rice education possible. “I’m incredibly grateful to the people who donated toward my financial aid. They gave me a chance to study, learn and grow without worrying about paying tuition or living expenses. I think about my story, my background and the barriers I’ve faced. Rice took care of that for me, and it’s changed the course of my life.”
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