Apolinar Vega spent time in the streets, in the juvenile and county jail systems, and nearly died by the age of 20. In just four years, he turned his life around and used his second chance to do what everyone told him he could - get an education and turn his story into one of success.
His parents immigrated from Michoacan, Mexico to Santa Rosa, where Apolinar and his sister were born. In his teenage years, Apolinar was discouraged about the difficulties he had in high school. He transferred from Piner High School to Elsie Allen, and in the end, was able to graduate from Ridgway High (Continuation) school in 2014. Afterward, he enrolled in classes at SRJC, becoming the first in his family to enter college, but he dropped out quickly, feeling unprepared for the challenges he faced. He tried again in 2016 and dropped out a second time.
Apolinar got caught up in street life when he was very young and spent time in the juvenile hall system and on probation. He lost his closest friend to gang violence and then nearly lost his own life. In May 2016, a few months after his best friend died, Apolinar was brutally attacked and stabbed. He says that on the way to the emergency room, he remembers how “life flashed before my eyes as they tell you in the movies. I thought that was it and I felt so bad for disappointing my parents who left their country to make it better for us.” In the hospital, he was placed into an induced coma, so the doctors could attempt to save his life.
He says the nurses in the hospital were kind to him and encouraged him to change. They made him promise to go back to college and graduate. While healing, Apolinar was not sure about what he wanted to do and was worried that his record would keep him from getting good jobs. But he was determined not to return to street life.
Apolinar said that the SRJC Second Chance club and program made a difference for him when he tried college a third time. The club supports formerly incarcerated students who want to succeed. He said, “The club gave me the right welcome to the school and the support that I really needed since the beginning. I was able to meet the right mentorship and other people who wanted to make that change in their life and go through the right path.” He also was determined to succeed so he could honor the legacy of his good friend who passed away.
Still, college was not easy for Apolinar. He had a hard time focusing and his back and left leg caused a lot of nerve pain as a result of the now-healed injuries. He endured the pain and persisted with his studies. Every time he wanted to give up, he turned for advice to his mentor, counselor, and Second Chance club advisor Rhonda Findling and to his instructors Roam Romagnoli and Rafael Vasquez. He also volunteered to help other students who faced similar challenges and needed help and inspiration to continue.
Apolinar discovered his passion for sociology through the classes taught by Solen Sanli Vasquez. He said he started understanding the society he lives in and was motivated to support others, along the way. In December 2019, he earned two degrees, with honors: Sociology for Transfer and Social Behavioral Sciences. After the graduation ceremony in May 2020, he will transfer to a four-year university to pursue a future career in education.