Julian Ramirez-Torres speaks to a room full of students seated at tables, balloons are placed at the front

GRPS principal shares journey as first-generation student at TRIO celebration

Julian Ramirez-Torres told a room full of high school students about the doubts and fears he had before starting college. He also shared the conversation about college he had with his father. 

"I told him about my desire to go to college and he said to me, 'Get a job instead, stop wasting your time,'" said Ramirez-Torres, principal at Grand Rapids Public Schools' Southwest Middle High School - Academia Bilingüe.

He was at Union High School when he had that conversation about college with his father. "I now realize my dad did not know how to help me achieve my goals or give me the money to go to college. He was protecting me from failure when he told me to get a job," he said.

Ramirez-Torres was the keynote speaker March 28 for a National TRIO Day celebration. Grand Rapids area high school students who participate in Grand Valley's TRIO programs visited the Allendale Campus for a daylong program that included a tour, lunch and presentations from various campus departments.

Julian Ramirez-Torres speaks into a microphone from a podium, 2 balloons frame the podium, another blue balloon in foreground
Julian Ramirez-Torres, principal at Southwest Middle High School - Academia Bilingüe, speaks to high school students at a National TRIO Day event in the Kirkhof Center.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Ramirez-Torres was born in Mexico and traveled across the border in 1992 with his family. His parents, he said, "knew they were giving us a better life."

He joined TRIO as a high school junior and learned how scholarships and grants can lower the cost of a college education. He also joined Junior ROTC and said his final exam was to complete an application to enroll at Grand Rapids Community College.

After earning an associate degree from GRCC, Ramirez-Torres earned a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Western Michigan University and a master's degree in educational leadership from Grand Valley. He taught Spanish classes for GRPS and Bridgman Public Schools before moving into school administration.

He told the students they are the authors of their own stories.

"I'm sure it's not going to be easy to be a first-generation college student but know that you are making a difference in the lives of generations to come," he said. "Do not be afraid to be the first one. Don't let your fears stop you."

Tayvon Streets is a sophomore at Southwest Middle High School and participates in TRIO Educational Talent Search. Tayvon said it's his first year in TRIO and he already recognizes its benefits.

"I like the activities and programs, and I have a better understanding of the different options and resources available for college," he said.


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