SBVC Alumni Feature: Mentally Focused on a Brighter Future
As an impressionable young middle school student in 2004, Vicente Cortez experienced
a 4th of July that year that would change the trajectory of his life forever as one
of his schoolmates was chased down and shot in a gang-related drive-by shooting.
(photo by SBVC student Laura Oliver)
“When I saw one of my friends die right in front of me, I knew this wasn’t the life
for me and I needed to make my own path because I didn’t want to fall into that category,”
Vicente Cortez experienced many of the challenges that came with having friends in
gangs and family members who weren’t aware of the importance of education.
“I knew I didn’t want to end up dying in front of
my parents or risking my family members going to jail and decided to go my own way.
Even today, I see some of those same friends who have criminal records and have spent
time in jail. They have a lot of nice things, but for all the wrong reasons.”
GEARING UP FOR COLLEGE
As he navigated the challenging teenage years, Vicente eventually ended up attending
Middle College High School, the award-winning program on the campus of San Bernardino
Valley College where students take college courses in the morning and high school
classes in the afternoon. After a friend told him about the field of psychiatric technology,
Vicente got a head start in the SBVC Psychiatric Technician program by completing
all of his pre-requisites before receiving his high school diploma in 2009.
“When my friend first told me about the Psych Tech Program, I didn’t even know what
it was,” Cortez admitted. “I was on my own—from studying and reading to learning how
to do research. Nobody around me had any knowledge about the health care field either,
so I had to figure out how to relate to things and find examples beyond the textbooks,”
Vicente persevered even though he entered the intensive program as one of the youngest
students (age 18) and initially felt the pressure of high expectations.
“The program was hard—and, considering that I was young, I think some people didn’t
expect me to follow through and thought I might fail,” Vicente said. “But the professors
were awesome and I used all of that doubt to prove everybody wrong. I knew that as
long as you have a heart for what you want to do, you can do whatever you want.”
Vicente graduated from SBVC’s Psychiatric Technician Ceremony in August 2011, immediately
passed his certification exams, and has begun applying for positions at local hospitals
and mental health facilities. As the first in his family (and his extended family)
to graduate from college, Vicente understands the critical role he plays in being
an example for his younger siblings who are age 15 and 9.
“I’ve tried to set the bar high so that they can reach it and aim to go higher,” Cortez
said. “My parents left Mexico to live here and provide a better opportunity for our
family. They did their part to give us a better future. And my way of thanking them
for that is to have a career and do what I can do to make them happy and help them.”
ON THE VERGE OF LAUNCHING A SUCCESSFUL CAREER
Vicente’s heart for psychiatric technology is evidenced by his desire to eventually
become a psychiatric nurse where he can help people who are lost by getting to know
their stories. While completing the required clinical trainings at Patton State Hospital
in San Bernardino, Vicente encountered a patient who had been admitted because of
drug abuse and was hearing voices and seeing things.
“I saw how people started working with him and he got better. He came in swinging,
spitting and everything, and now he is under control and is back out in the world
after getting help,” Vicente said. “I experienced that change and saw what a difference
I could make.”
At only 20 years of age, Vicente already has an attractive résumé for employers to
consider: A college degree, completed certifications, significant volunteer experience
in a technical health care field, and fluency in Spanish. Vicente’s hope is that his
skill set will be a differentiator when hiring decisions are made at hospitals and
mental health facilities.
“I’ve had a tough life, but I know that life doesn’t stop for anybody. I live by day
by day and keep pursuing what I want to do,” Vicente shared. “I’ll volunteer or do
whatever I have to do and wherever there is a job for me out there, that’s where I’m
going to go,” Vicente said.