Recent College of Marin (COM) graduate Juan Camara is the first person in his family to go to college, and on top of that, he was offered a full scholarship to attend Stanford University as a transfer student. This may not sound like an incredible feat, but to put it into perspective, in 2019 Stanford only accepted 27 transfer students out of 2,352 applicants, a 1.15 percent acceptance rate. It’s something even Stanford is candid about, stating on their website that the university “accepts a small number of transfer students each year.” This makes Camara’s passion for learning, his hard work, dedication to his goals, and overall achievement that much more inspiring.
Yet in 2016, Camara was in a completely different mindset. He graduated from high school in his hometown Novato with an academic GPA of 1.5 and went directly into the U.S. Army. “I wasn’t really a good student,” Camara recalled. “There were many things that I went through at a young age that ultimately led me to not pay attention in school. Before graduating I knew I had to do something drastically different.” Being a first-generation immigrant and the youngest of three children raised solely by his mother he knew that he would need to pay his own bills when he came of age, and he felt the army was his best path forward. “I felt if I would have stayed here, I potentially could have become another statistic.”
Once Camara got out of the army, he came back to Novato and started working, mostly in construction where he became a tile apprentice. He started thinking about going to college, and he applied to COM but didn’t register for any classes. He kept thinking about his future and laying tile for the next 20 years, something he found to be very tough on his knees and back.
A few months later in spring 2020, Camara just decided to just go for it, and registered for summer classes at COM. He majored in sociology with the plan to transfer to get his bachelor’s degree and then go to law school to focus on immigration law or criminal and constitutional law.
He knew he would need to work fulltime on top of being a full-time COM student in order to reach his goals. He also applied for and received federal financial aid and held different work study positions, including working at the Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden in Novato. “That was amazing, because I got to get my hands on another passion of mine, which is to learn how to grow food and sustainable agriculture,” stated Camara.
With his first work-study position, he helped to create an open-source reader that focused on how sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination have been pervasive throughout academia and how that affects different fields of study. His last semester in work-study allowed him to be a peer educator where he led different events and programs centered on social justice issues.
Being on campus through work study, Camara started to realize he could find community around the things he was interested in.
“I wanted to connect with people and build relationships with others,” stated Camara. “I wanted to do things that I hadn't really done before. In middle school and high school, I didn't really care for school. So, I didn't really apply myself at the time or got involved with anything. I wanted to change that.”
He joined different COM clubs and organizations, such as being a member of the Associated Students of College of Marin (ASCOM), COM’s student government. He was the vice president of the Students for Social Justice Club and on the executive board of Alpha Gamma Sigma, COM’s honor society. His last semester, he was appointed as student representative on the College’s Board of Trustees; and these are only a few of the groups he joined.
“I feel like there's a community for everyone,” Camara said. “One thing I think about a lot is that, even though I obviously put in the work to get to where I am, I haven’t been able to do it alone. I don't think anyone can really do it alone. It's hard to do things by yourself. Sometimes even when you think you're doing it by yourself, there are other people who have helped in some way. And Puente helped me the most.”
When Camara first started at COM, he got involved with the Puente Program, a program that helps first-generation students get to and through college while focusing on the Latinx experience. Camara felt Puente was pivotal to helping him succeed in his academic and life goals.
“There were many things that I loved about Puente, such as the mentoring and the academic personal support,” Camara said. “The program taught me a lot that I didn't know being a first-generation student. There were many things about school that I had no idea I had to do. Everyone in the program was just instrumental in helping me get to where I am.”
While at COM, Camara started to become more interested in environmental and sustainability issues, yet he wasn’t able to take courses that fell outside of his sociology major. “I focused on sociology and that was it, because when I went back to school, I had to really think about what I was taking since all my bills fall on me. I wasn't sure how to juggle school and be able to work enough to sustain myself. So, I just told myself that I had to do it in a short amount of time and as fast as possible.”
At Stanford, Camara will be given a chance to explore. Stanford gives transfer students a year to pick a major. So, Camara is exploring those fields he’s interested in. “Right now,” reflected Camara, “I've been looking into energy resources engineering, with a possible minor in sociology. Then, I’d probably still go into law, but environmental law and do something with sustainable, renewable energy policies and something within government. Another possibility is either mechanical engineering or aeronautics and astronautics since I love working with my hands and building stuff.”
When he reflects on going to Stanford, Camara turns his attention to his family and to others who were in the same place he was before he started college.
“One thing that's really important for me with getting into Stanford is the fact that I'm breaking generational barriers,” he stated. “And that right there is very important to me because not many people with my background or story are given an opportunity like this. I'm the first person in my family to go to college and doing so can make it easier for my nephews and future kids to one day be able to as well.”
Camara shared these words of encouragement for current students, “No matter your background or obstacles, you can achieve anything that you set your mind and soul to. With hard work, consistency, dedication, and discipline anything is possible.”
He started as a junior at Stanford University in fall 2022.