Michael Chavez said he regrets all the times he’s made his mother cry through the years. A self-described “bad person” throughout a large portion of his life, Michael said he started getting in trouble at the age of 9 and remained on an undesirable path through most of his adulthood.
“I think there were only about seven months out of my 20s that I actually got to see the world,” he said. “The rest of the time, I was behind bars. My path in life landed me in places I had no business being in.”
Being behind bars, however, gave Michael a lot of time to reflect on his life and that of his mom, who he has always admired.
Michael’s mom gave birth to him when she was just 14 years old, and despite the obvious challenges of being such a young mother, she stayed in school, graduated, and eventually went into nursing. Michael said he succinctly remembers and cherishes many of the memories from that time.
“I remember walking to school with her during her senior year,” he said. “I remember seeing her study hard sitting at the kitchen table turning page after page and writing stuff down. I’d say, ‘What are you doing?’ and she’d say, ‘I’m studying for a better future.’”
Now in his 30s, released from prison and struggling with his own sets of challenges, Michael said he was ready to seek a better future for himself and, more importantly, make his mother proud. So, when he met with a representative from UEI College who said the school would be willing to give him a chance to turn his life around, he was inspired by his mother’s example to enroll in the Medical Assistant program in Encino.
With help, encouragement and support from his instructors as well as fellow classmates, Michael completed his classes as a model student, earned his high school diploma, graduated from the Medical Assistant program, and accepted a position at the urgent care center where he finished his externship.
And, despite his desire to no longer make his mother cry, this time the tears flowed for a different reason.
“The only time I ever seen my mom cry from happiness was when I got out of prison, and it was a short little cry like, ‘I’m glad you’re home,’” Michael said. “But, when I brought home my certificate and my high school diploma, it broke her down. She literally fell to her knees and she cried, she was so happy.”
BEING OFFERED A SECOND CHANCE AT UEI COLLEGE
Michael credits his participation in a program called Adult & Teen Challenge USA for helping turn his life around. After going down the wrong path during most of his life, he said the program helped him view his past in a different light.
“I came to the realization that everything I was doing wrong was because of my own will,” he said. “Everything that was going on in my life was because of myself. I was causing all this pain for my parents, my sisters, my sons that I lost… This program helped me to seek the better side of life – one that’s paved by God.”
As he sought out a more positive future, he began making connections with local schools he hoped would help him earn his high school diploma while also learning a trade. The first school he met with, however, abruptly ended the conversation once they learned Michael had served time in prison.
“That almost broke me,” he said. “But, my mother and father sat me down and told me that when one door closes, 10 doors open. The next day, I found out about UEI College.”
UEI College, he said, was willing and eager to help him build a better life. The staff was nonjudgmental about his past and persistent in ensuring he was properly prepared and ready to begin his educational journey within the Medical Assistant program.
Michael began his first class at the Encino campus in October of 2020.
“They say that the first step is the hardest step, right?” he said. “To be honest, it is the hardest step. There’s no turning back, especially with my background. I had to see it through to the end.”
CONTINUING THE POSITIVE MOMENTUM IN EDUCATION & CAREER
Michael said it took him a while to learn to be a successful student. He let himself fall behind in a couple of his early classes, but his instructors refused to let him fall by the wayside.
“There were times when my instructors looked at me and said, ‘Don’t give up,’” he said. “They took the time with each and every one of us to help us out with homework, talk to us about our personal lives if we had any personal issues … they were there for more than just teaching. There are not too many people in this world who would do that.”
Michael did not take this support for granted. He earned A’s in nearly all of his classes before moving on to complete his externship hours at Urgent Care One in Sun Valley. Again, he admits to lacking confidence when he began his externship, but eventually he began to open up with staff and patients, which made the job feel more natural to him.
“When I did that, I noticed that my job became easier,” he said. “I started focusing more on patients and their needs. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to serve the community and to help patients out – not just to feel better, but to feel welcome here.”
His entire experience at and with UEI College, Michael said, has been a positive one. At one point, staff and instructors even wrote letters of recommendation to a judge with whom he was working to get his criminal record expunged – an effort that recently proved successful thanks in part to the effort he’s made in his education and career.
“Michael is the true embodiment of dedication and drive, an example for everyone to look up to,” said Jackie Azizyan, Senior Campus President at UEI College’s Encino campus. “He never failed to commit his full self to getting the future he deserved and paving the way for others. We are beyond proud of his accomplishments and undoubtedly know that he has one bright future ahead of him.”
Now, Michael says, he’s looking forward to one day continuing his education in order to become a registered nurse – a way of following in his mother’s footsteps.
“Right now, I thank God for programs like UEI,” he said. “They didn’t judge me for what I’ve done or for my past. They took their time with me and taught me everything there was to be taught. I applied it to my work, and I think the doctor really appreciates me there. It makes me feel really good, ya know?”