How a 17-year-old Chicagoan became a first-generation college graduate | Chicagoans | Chicago Reader

How a 17-year-old Chicagoan became a first-generation college graduate 

Ozzy Ordoñez got his degree through the P-TECH program codeveloped by IBM.

click to enlarge Ordoñez at the high school he just graduated from, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy

Ordoñez at the high school he just graduated from, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy

Kristan Lieb

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week's Chicagoan is Ozzy Ordoñez, 17, the first-generation college graduate.

College never was really on my parents' mind. They were raised to finish high school and then get a good job and live comfortably like that, but of course times change. I'm a very education-oriented person. When I was growing up, college wasn't quite a dream; it was more of a fantasy. It was like, "Oh, man, I could end up at Harvard!," 'cause I thought that was the only college that ever existed.

In third grade, we learned about planets. That was amazing; I really liked that subject. The planets are so far away, and they're gigantic. I imagine that on every other planet, there must be something else that's interesting. Going on a spaceship, being in an astronaut suit—that sounded like the best thing to do in life. And I still consider Pluto a planet. Like people call it the Willis Tower, and I still call it the Sears Tower.

When I was in eighth grade, I had to apply to high schools, and my counselor recommended that I check out the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy if I was interested in technology, which I was. I thought it was an ordinary STEM high school, but then they said, "We can get you your college degree through this thing called the P-TECH program, which was codeveloped by IBM," and I was sold on that. Essentially, you have to pass an exam, and if you pass, you're able to take dual- enrollment courses, so while you're completing your high school courses, you can also attend a City College of Chicago and get your associate degree. I attended Richard J. Daley College.

The model is a six-year program, but I completed it in four years. I just felt that if I could save two years of my life in order to be ahead, to achieve more in less time, I was all for that. It did feel like a lot of work, but I was very determined to do it. In the morning, I'd get to the high school around 7:15. Then I'd get to college at 9:30. My last class there would be around noon, and then I would go back to my high school to finish my normal school day. My very first college course was English 101, when I was a high school sophomore. It was intimidating, but once I was there, there was no reason to back out of it.

I graduated in May with my associate degree in Web development. I'm not one to cry, but I definitely had tears of joy, because of my achievement, and because of appreciation for my family and for this opportunity, because it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Now I'll be attending the University of Illinois at Chicago. I want to major in mechanical engineering. That sounds fun.

By 27, I hope to be in some type of management position at a car manufacturing company. I want to pay it all back to my family in any way that I can. I want them to be happy and live comfortably. That would be the least that I could do. Hopefully they can live comfortably, I can live comfortably, and I can have a branch that has great production rates, because I want my employees to have a happy life and be happy to work for me.   v

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