“You’re crazy. Me, a doctor?” Crystal Arrietta said.

“Yeah! You’ve seen the most messed-up people in the world, and you’ve been able to move on from that,” Wade, Arrietta’s co-worker, said. “Don’t you think you can help those people?”

This short conversation was one of the major turning points of Arrietta’s life, she said. With the help of family, friends, advisors and professors, Arrietta will graduate Saturday with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology.

“I am so grateful that I have learned as much as I have along this journey that, no matter where I end up, my ultimate goal is to help anybody I come in contact with achieve their dreams,” Arrietta said.

Before an attempted suicide at the age of 11, Arrietta said she grew up in a chaotic environment filled with anger, alcohol, drugs and violence.

At the age of 14 Arrietta experimented with drugs and alcohol and was placed in New Mexico’s Youth Diagnostic Development Center for fighting, she said.

Her life seemed to improve after that and she enrolled in high school, but after only two years she dropped out to provide for her family, she said.

Arrietta was working a job as an auto mechanic at Miata Specialists when she had her short but fateful conversation with Wade. He said he has watched her change into a great person since that day.

“When I first met her, Crystal was a very angry person and seemed to be mad at the whole world,” Wade said. “Now that she has settled in, she is actually a really good part of society.”

At 22, Arrietta enrolled in Central New Mexico Community College as a general studies major but found her calling in sociology and psychology, she said.

“I realized I didn’t want to become my parents,” Arrietta said. “I love them to death, but I didn’t want to make the same mistakes they did, and I knew I didn’t have to.”

In her sophomore year a poor diet landed Arrietta in the hospital for kidney failure. It would be nearly two years before she recovered enough to continue her degree. Once she was well, however, she decided to apply to UNM rather than return to CNM.

“I was terrified when I came here,” Arrietta said. “I was absolutely terrified to come to UNM because I didn’t think I could do it.”

Now that she has grown up, Wade said, Arrietta has developed an infectious drive and enthusiasm for life.

“And it inspired me” Wade said. “When I feel lazy I can think, ‘Yeah, Crystal would not just sit down and do nothing, so I need to get up and do what I need to do.’”

Arrietta has inspired her grandmother, Bertha Romero, as well. Romero said Arrietta knows what she wants and will do anything she can to reach her goals.

“She is one in a million; she’s an example to her brother and sister,” Romero said. “Even if they don’t always agree, they do come back and form a bond.”

When Arrietta accepts her degree, Romero said, she will be feeling a sense of pride and will likely be crying.

“There are a lot of things in life that we cannot control — we can’t even always control what we say,” Romero said. “So you just have to do what you can do to the best of your abilities.”

After graduation, Arrietta said she wants to enroll in the sociology master’s program at UNM. After that, she said she wants to use the degree to help people in the Latino community gain access to and a desire for higher education.

“I want to be able to show them that no matter what you have gone through, no matter how shitty your childhood was, you can do it,” Arrietta said. “You just may need a little help and not be afraid to ask for the help.”

Robert Maler and Lauren Marvin are reporters for the Daily Lobo. They can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.