Learning to Believe

Angel Barajas is headed to Truckee Meadows Community College, and he can hardly believe it.

Early on a Friday morning three weeks before he graduated from Sierra High School, Angel Barajas’ phone rang. It was TTCF calling to say he was being awarded the Jackson-Ferree Scholarship.

“I was speechless when they told me,” Angel says. Less than a year earlier, it seemed unlikely he would even graduate from high school. “I had applied, but I never thought I would actually get a scholarship. So I was very surprised—kind of shocked. And … it was actually my birthday!”

Until quite recently, Angel Barajas felt that college was not in the cards for him.

I had applied, but I never thought I would actually get a scholarship. So I was very surprised—kind of shocked. And … it was actually my birthday!”

Angel Barajas

Next fall, Angel will head to Reno to attend Truckee Meadows Community College, where he’ll study diesel mechanics. TMCC is both a trade school and a college, and thanks to the scholarship, Barajas will get a college degree, not just a trade certificate, as he was planning. This will give him the skills and credentials he needs to work on diesel semi tractor-trailer trucks, snow removal equipment, construction equipment— every kind of diesel-powered machinery.

Showing a bit of an entrepreneurial streak, Angel says he also plans to buy big rigs that are in disrepair, fix them up, and sell them. “I’d kind of like to have my own little rebuilt semi-truck company,” he says.

Angel Barajas, with mom Evelia and brother Erick, following a skydiving jump.

Barajas is grateful and also a little bit stunned by his good fortune. He shares that high school was a hard road for him, beginning with tragedy when his grandmother passed away in the summer between eighth grade and freshman year. “My grandma was pretty much like my mom to me,” he says. “I was pretty depressed going into high school—I didn’t want to leave my room. That was my first time feeling that type of sadness.”

Things got harder. When Covid hit, both of Angel’s parents lost their jobs. He was already working at a local golf course, and he took another job at a fast food restaurant, where he eventually became a manager. He felt that it was his responsibility to help put food on the table at home, and he stopped attending online classes at Truckee High despite his parents’ protestations. “I didn’t drop out,” he says, “I just couldn’t go to school.”

In the summer between his junior and senior year, everything changed. His parents found work, and Angel decided to up his academic game.

Angel, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and came here as a baby, says his immigration status had led him to feel that things were hopeless.

“I was thinking ‘I can’t really do anything with my life, so what’s the point of going to school?’ But working two jobs made me realize I did need to go to school and finish something. I was like, no. I don’t want to live like this.”

That One Special Teacher

When Angel Barajas was in fifth grade, he had a teacher who helped put him on the path to success that he now finds himself walking. Because he had spent parts of third and fourth grades in Mexico after attending first and second grades here, he had lost a fair amount of his English skills. While he quickly re-learned to communicate in English, reading had remained difficult. He recalls that “Miss Dewald,” then the vice-principal of Alder Creek Middle School, encouraged him, and by the end of fifth grade he was reading.

Angel was able to put that skill to use during his senior year, when in addition to fulfilling all of his graduation requirements at Sierra High, he took an English 1A class at Sierra College. In that class he read his first book of fiction, “Tell Me How It Ends,“ by Valeria Luiselli, which tells the story of a woman working as a translator for Central American child migrants who are seeking refuge in the U.S.

“I actually got attached to that book,” he recalls. Angel looks forward to reading more books, “to gain more knowledge,“ while pursuing his diesel mechanics degree. And he has a more immediate goal in mind—something he intends to do in the next couple weeks. 

“From Donner Lake,” he says, “I can see a really high mountain. I want to go hike it, and see the view from up there.”