Stories on last week’s tragic bus crash near Orland have been too painful to read. Almost each one of them has told us of a young person full of hope and inspiration who died on a journey of self-improvement.
Five of the 10 people killed when a FedEx tractor-trailer slammed into a bus taking prospective college students to Humboldt State on Interstate 5 Thursday were teenagers from communities short on advanced degrees and college educations.
They were trying to change that by doing something truly brave: Leaving all they had known to go to college far from home.
Frankly, their stories put to shame the conventional wisdom that young people today – the millennial generation – are spoiled, lazy and disaffected.
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The young adults who died on Interstate 5 were pursuing dreams that would have lifted communities.
All five high school students killed had Spanish surnames – Adrian Castro, Marisa Serrato, Jennifer Bonilla, Ismael Jimenez and Denise Gomez.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Jimenez, an 18-year-old who attended a charter school in Inglewood, had died trying to save others.
“He busted open a window at the front of the bus as it was filling with smoke and people were getting burned,” Marco Petruzzi, chief executive of Jimenez’s school, said in the Times. “He started lifting kids out in an effort to save them.”
Jimenez would have been the first in his family to attend college.
While Latino high graduation rates have risen in the last decade, college still remains elusive for too many. According to the Washington, D.C-based Pew Research Center: “Young (Latino) college students are less likely than their white counterparts to enroll in a four-year college (56 percent vs. 72 percent).”
U.S. census statistics released in 2012 show only 11 percent of young Latinos are likely to get a four-year degree.
The point of the trip to Humboldt State was to set young dreamers on a path toward obtaining their college degrees – and the chance of a better future.
Some of them were inspired to chase that dream by Arthur Arzola, 26, a Humboldt State admissions representative dedicated to helping kids from low-income families. He also died in the crash.
“Arzola understood what it meant to work multiple jobs – not all of them glamorous – to achieve one’s goals,” wrote Scott Jaschik in an Insider Higher Ed article titled, “Tragic Death of an Idealist.”
Arzola’s stepmother told the Los Angeles Times her son was driven by his idealism. “He wanted to make it an even playing field. He wanted them to have the same opportunities,” Stephanie Arzola said. “He always just wanted to help students be passionate about school and have them move on to higher education, make something of themselves, and have a career.”
Despite the millennial stereotype, these young people cared a great deal about more than just themselves. They won’t soon be forgotten.