Daniel Garcia

Rachel Carson '20, politics and Latin American and Latino studies

Daniel Garcia (Rachel Carson '20, politics and Latin American and Latino studies)

Daniel Garcia had always planned to be a medical doctor and was almost finished with his pre-med requirements at Mt. San Antonio College, a community college in Walnut, Calif., when the 2016 election happened.

“I had to really think about my community,” he said, “and how to make things better for people in terms of the injustices we face.”

He changed his major from pre-med to politics. 

“It was a super scary decision,” he said.

Now, as Garcia graduates, the 23-year-old said he knows he made the right choice. He is looking forward to going to grad school and having a career in education, either as a professor or directing a program that provides equal opportunities for students no matter who they are or where they came from. 

“I just love helping people,” he said.

Growing up in Southern California as an undocumented student, Garcia said high school counselors told him there weren’t many higher education opportunities or resources for students in his situation. 

“They said it was better to work at McDonald's, and I almost accepted it,” said Garcia. 

Then, he got a scholarship aimed at students who fell under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was set up by former President Barack Obama.

“And that solidified it for me,” he said. “I knew I had to first create opportunities for myself and then help others.”

Garcia said he was captivated by the peace and natural beauty of UC Santa Cruz but, without his regular support system, he found himself wanting to connect with others who shared his experiences. His first quarter on campus, he said, he helped found an organization called Beyond Dreams, which became a space where undocumented students could gather, socialize, and share their life stories.

He also became a peer mentor for Services for Transfer and Re-Entry Students (STARS) at UC Santa Cruz, helping students find jobs, navigate the academic system, and adjust to university life. His senior year, he said, he had a caseload of 23 students and also had reached out to a number of students at Mt. San Antonio College telling them about the benefits and opportunities at UC Santa Cruz.

“I really want to let people know that UC Santa Cruz is a real gem,” he said.