A Manual Arts High School senior whose family of six was homeless for three months after his father lost his job will be attending Harvard University in the fall, thanks to a USC program.
Jorge Campos, 17, currently lives with his family in Palmdale. His days are typically long, ending late and starting early, as he makes the approximately 140-mile round trip to his high school in South Los Angeles and back.
“Sometimes I’m getting home at 11 or midnight, just to wake up the next morning at 5 or 4:30 in the morning,” he said.
But for Campos, the distance is nothing compared to the journey he’s been through.
Campos was just 13 years old and set to begin high school when his father, an auto technician, lost his job. The family was homeless for three months, living in a van, out of hotels and staying with other relatives.
“Right now, I look back and instead of breaking down and crying like I should, because they were quite traumatic experiences, I just look at it … and look forward,” Campos told KTLA.
As difficult as his circumstances were, he didn’t let them deter him from succeeding academically.
That same year, Campos — a USC TRIO Upward Bound Scholar — enrolled in college level courses at Los Angeles Community College. He needs to complete just three classes to earn his associates degree in Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
Homelessness was a motivating factor in shaping his education, as it prompted the teen to learn about finances, according to a news release from USC.
He even learned how his family could transition from a “high loan risk” to homeowners, which helped them purchase their home in Palmdale two years ago.
“I took on the budget. I took on all the finances. All the bills that are paid at home run through me,” Campos told KTLA.
The son of Mexican parents, Campos grew up in South L.A. just blocks away from the University of Southern California campus in Exposition Park. He was invited to join the USC TRIO Upward Bound Math and Science program at his high school his freshman years.
The program is geared toward helping high school students who are first-generation college bound, low-income students fulfill their potential and go to university. It provides students like Campos educational tools and resources at USC.
About 2,500 students are currently in the program, which is in its 40th year, the release stated.
Campos credits the program with helping him succeed.
He has a full ride to Harvard, where he plans to study economics. After, he’s hoping to get a master’s degree in public policy.
As he nears graduation, Campos has a powerful message for anyone else who may be struggling or going through tough times.
“Always keep in mind where you’re going, right? Because it’s not where you are that matters, but where you want to be,” he said.