When next fall rolls around, José Alberto Aceves Salvador will begin his undergraduate career. But whether that’s as a student at Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, Yale, MIT, UC Berkeley, UCLA, or any of the other 11 schools that accepted him remains unknown. José – the son of two Mexican immigrants – will graduate as the valedictorian of his class at New Open World Academy in Los Angeles. He also has a pretty impressive résumé. Even then, he felt surprised that so many schools accepted him. “When I applied to all these universities, I felt overwhelmed,” he told La Opinión. “I thought I didn’t stand a chance, and that they wouldn’t accept me.”
For the 17-year-old student, getting to this moment hasn’t been devoid of obstacles. His parents, who arrived in the country in their 20s, have always worked very hard to provide for their three children. But they’ve struggled financially at times. José’s father, Ricardo, juggled multiple jobs. To cope with the stress, Ricardo turned to alcohol. “The worst part of my drinking is that I’ve left good jobs where they’ve paid well, but I quit because of my addiction,” Ricardo said. The family stayed afloat during those tough times because of José’ mother, Isabel, who works at a hospital.
The family of five lives in Koreatown in a one-bedroom apartment. José jokes that he “learned to study with noise.” Over the course of his life, he’s also learned how to manage a busy schedule. Every day, he wakes up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. so that he can arrive at water polo practice by 6 a.m., which runs for an hour and a half. He then begins school at 8 a.m. After school, he participates in a mentor program. In a December 2016 video announcing him as one of the recipients of the Children’s Defense Fund-California Beat the Odds Scholarship, José’s classmates thanked him for selflessly devoting his time to helping them with chemistry, pre-calculus, and even with college applications.
José’s goal is to graduate from an ivy league school with a degree in bioengineering. He’s also determined to get a masters and doctorate. He plans to work in the field for about a decade before becoming a teacher. “The teachers I’ve had in high school and in middle school, they just influenced me throughout my life,” he said. “So I just like thought that I really want to come back to my community and be like, ‘OK, I can help you do this. I want to help you pursue this career. I want to push you into this STEM field,’ or something like that.”
Check out this short documentary on him below: