Jaime Vargas vividly remembers what it was like growing up in his Humboldt Park neighborhood in the 1990s. “The environment was pretty rough, there was a lot of peer pressure, a lot of gang activity and drugs,” Vargas said. At the time, Vargas admits to being more involved with the streets than he was education, he dropped out of school in 1997 and never looked back until he came to Wright College Humboldt Park in 2015. The decision was prompted by a huge push from his family, but mostly his children, ranging in ages from 3 to 13. “I have younger kids, just seeing them struggle in school made me want to show them how important school is. If I can show them how important school is, then maybe they’ll do better in school than what they’re doing at the moment. My 13 year-old son, Jaime Jr., wasn’t doing too hot in school, and once I saw that he had to go to summer school I felt I should get my GED,” Vargas said.
He had previously tried several times throughout the years to obtain his GED, but couldn’t seem to retain the focus to finish. Finally, in the summer of 2016, he did it – earning his GED from Wright College. He initially didn’t intend to pursue any education beyond that until he heard about the Gateway program, which would help him start credit classes after he earned his GED. After learning more, Vargas became interested in the CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) program that his older brother recommended to him.
The CNC program presented huge challenges for him in math, but the transition from GED to CNC turned out to be a rewarding experience. Vargas completed the CNC program in May 2017, earning his certification as a CNC Milling and Turning Operator. He plans to become a CNC programmer who runs the machines that cut, shape, and finish materials such as metals, plastics, or wood into usable components.
He offers advice to students who are maybe nervous about going back to school: “Look at me. I’m 35 years-old and it took me almost 20 years to make a move, to decide to do something better with myself than what I was doing and realize there was something more important out there for me to do. If you feel you’re in a rut, don’t give up on life. There are so many opportunities out there for you,” he said. Vargas hopes his journey will encourage students to finish strong no matter how long it takes.