Editor's Note: The original version of this article stated, "Being from San Juan County, Marquez said that everyone around him probably expected him to work in the oil mines," which is incorrect. The article has been corrected to read, "Being from San Juan County, Marquez said that everyone around him probably expected him to work in the oil field." The Daily Lobo apologizes for any confusion.
At 17-years-old, Michael Marquez dropped out of high school after a guidance counselor suggested that he would be better off if he just went to work instead of continuing his education.
But he has advice for anyone who has been in a similar situation:
“Dropping out of high school is not the end of the world. You didn’t ruin your life,” Marquez said.
Being from San Juan County, Marquez said that everyone around him probably expected him to work in the oil field, but he had a different goal in mind.
It took several years, but after leaving high school, he moved to Albuquerque and began taking night classes at Central New Mexico Community College and working full time, mostly in restaurants, to pay for his classes since he was not eligible for the Lottery Scholarship.
After two years at CNM, he transferred to the University of New Mexico to finish his degree.
Marquez is graduating with his bachelor’s in political science and history. He said he has always been enthralled by politics and wanted to learn more about how it works.
Marquez’ girlfriend, Rachel Pierce, said that she is excited about him graduating.
“He has been working for this for such a long time and deserves this success more than anyone I know,” Pierce said.
This semester, Marquez received a paid internship with the Sierra Club, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.
“We mostly do community organizing around political action, defending the environment, environmental justice, clean water, stuff like that,” Marquez said.
He was also recently elected to executive committee, which means he will be taking on more of a leadership role. He said he hopes to become one of the few employees the organization has in New Mexico, as it is a volunteer-based organization.
Marquez plans to continue working and helping out with the Sierra Club once he graduates.
In regards to what he plans to do with his degree after graduation, Marquez said that in politics, it’s about who you know.
With that in mind, he is currently working on networking and becoming more well-known to the public, a door Sierra Club has helped open for him — the opportunity to “meet new people within the progressive coalition.”
He says he aspires to run for office someday, but in the meantime, he would like to focus on organizing people around political action.
“I think there’s a strong disconnect between frustration and actually doing something about it,” Marquez said.
He said events that have occured in the last couple of years are an indication of how much millennials need to take control of our country, instead of letting the older generation do it, since they are now the largest voting bloc.
“We should be using our voice to push forward policies that benefit millennials,” he said.
Pierce said she hopes to see him pursue his dreams and fulfill his purpose of contributing positive change on a larger scale in the state and the country as a whole.
“I hope that he continues to use his gift of speaking to all groups of people about issues concerning our environment and political involvement,” she said.
Marquez said after graduation, he will likely need to continue serving tables until he finds something else, but he now knows he has more options.
Along with his girlfriend, Marquez said that his mother has been one of his biggest supporters through his journey towards graduation.
Although she lives out of state, he said she has always encouraged him. He said even though he has frustrated her throughout the years, with dropping out of high school or not being able to pay rent, she is always in his corner, sending him money to help out or simply letting him vent.
Marquez said he has seen a lot of young people get frustrated, have similar experiences to his and just give up. He wants people in these situations to know that it is possible to succeed.
“It’s not about where you started, it’s about where you end up,” Marquez said.
Kelly Urvanejo is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Kelly_Urvanejo.