The message David Casillas heard growing up in a gang-infested area of Santa Ana was that he would not amount to anything. His high school teachers told him that he was wasting space in their classrooms. He was in and out of trouble a lot, headed in the wrong direction.
Fortunately, his life changed when Casillas’s family moved to Westminster and then to Corona. A friend helped him get a job in the aerospace industry. He settled down, worked hard, got promoted, and starting earning $65,000 a year. “Pretty good, for a guy with only a GED,” David said.
Then the unthinkable happened. He suffered a stroke that affected his vision, hearing, and speech. He lost everything. He had no idea what kind of future lay ahead.
“I went from being labeled as wasted space to successful to disabled,” he said.
As he slowly recovered, Casillas realized he had to get an education and figure out a new path because he no longer could work in the aerospace industry.
He enrolled in classes at Norco College and investigated the Disabled Students programs where he found assistance that would change the tide for him once again. “There are so many resources here to help. I tapped into everything the EOPS and SSS programs had to help me.” He transitioned from being an auditory to a visual learner, and he was able to access small scholarships that helped pay for books.
“One thing I’ve learned throughout this difficult time is I have to keep taking steps forward,” said the first-generation college graduate. His example has inspired his daughter, who is graduating from high school, to go to college as well.
Casillas is graduating as a student of distinction with an associate of arts degree in Fine Art. He plans to transfer to either CSU Long Beach or Chapman University.