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Starting a tradition of achievement

By Laurie Davies

Absalon Alvarez’s late grandfather migrated to the United States from Guadalajara when he was 15 to work lettuce fields in Arizona and California — a beautiful but hard life that formed his family mantra: Drive the family forward.

He passed away in 2022, but his legacy will live on for generations to come. Case in point is Alvarez, who is a living testament to his grandfather’s vision.

A 2012 psychology graduate from University of Phoenix, Alvarez pushed himself to go where literally no one in his family had gone. “I was the first in my family of 32 cousins to get a college degree and now it is the standard,” he says. His cousins are pursuing higher education in fields ranging from medicine to music to ministry, he adds.

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Life in the present

For Alvarez’s part, his psychology degree has opened up possibilities in his technology job on a daily basis. You read that right: Psych helps him in tech.

At first glance, his degree might seem like an unconventional table-setter for his job as a supervisor in a network operations center in the telecom industry. But Alvarez says it all fits together perfectly.

“There are technical leaders in my field, and there are people leaders. I feel like I have a good balance. I am very good at people leading, at finding out what motivates people, what makes them push harder — or what makes them not want to work for you,” he says. “I feel like I use a lot of my degree. I am able to push my team and drive my team forward.”

Portrait of Alvarez with his wife and two children

Now a 35-year-old husband and dad from Buckeye, Arizona, Alvarez was 20 when he embarked on his college journey. He’d heard the stories of his dad working in the fields starting at age 7. All the aunts and uncles did too. “Going to work at that young age was normal, especially if you grew up on farms,” he says.

Alvarez knew education was how his grandfather envisioned driving the family forward. But he also understood that his family was not in the financial position to send him to college when he turned 18.

He devised a plan to attend community college and then transfer to a four-year university. But a full class load for a young man working full time — and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life — just didn’t click for Alvarez.

“My first semester away was the first time I was completely by myself, and I was struggling,” he says. He attended three different community colleges in two cities. “Finally, I thought the way I was doing school was not going to be successful.”

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Finding success

He took six months off to do missionary work in Brazil. And when he came back to the States, he gained the clarity he needed.

“I knew I needed to work full time to support myself — that was a given. That’s when I heard about University of Phoenix and how it was for working adults,” he says. He enrolled and, through a combination of financial aid and student loans, he made the finances work.

As for the actual studies? He muscled through those too.

“I just had it in my mind that I needed to get it done. I felt like my grandpa pushed me through my classes. Did I doubt? Absolutely. Still, the University of Phoenix provided a balance I could handle. One five-week class at a time is what helped me stay sane,” he says.

Today, his employer offers tuition assistance to employees — a benefit Alvarez did not personally take advantage of but one he touts to any of his colleagues or employees who have a dream to earn a degree.

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Looking ahead

Now 18 credits shy of a master’s degree in theology at another school (he is taking a break so his wife can focus on her master’s degree), Alvarez reflects on the years when he earned his bachelor’s.

“What I learned about myself is that I can,” he says. “I can accomplish things that are difficult. I can influence people for the good. I can reach goals when I stay focused and grounded.”

He says it’s important to discover what inspires you and then set goals and challenge yourself. In some ways, it’s a continuation of the mantra his grandfather espoused. “In my personal life, he was the one — that inner voice — telling me I can do better,” Alvarez says.

He still feels like he’s not done with his educational goals. “It’s personal now — not because I feel like I need them,” he says. He understands that, at this point, he’s writing his own story. “My grandpa was a big influence, but it’s my own legacy now, right?”

As he ruminates on the answer to his own semi-rhetorical question, he thinks about the new template that’s being established for his daughters, ages 1 and 4. Many of the younger cousins look up to him too. “We’re headed in the right direction,” Alvarez says. “I think my grandpa would be proud.”


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