If you had known Carolyn Ruiz when she was a freshman at Fort Worth’s Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School, you probably would have come to the same conclusion as most of her teachers and some of the students who knew her.No way could anybody imagine then where she’s headed today.Carolyn, in an interview on the the University of Texas at Arlington campus last week, acknowledged that in those days, while she was not a “horrible child,” she “acted up, wasn’t doing what I was supposed to, not getting good grades and running with the wrong crowd.”She lived across the street from the school and admits taking an extra lunch period at her home, skipping classes and simply not focusing.Carolyn also says she got involved with a boy who joined a gang and dropped out of school after the ninth grade. On New Year’s Day in 2007, when he should have been joining her for the second semester of their sophomore year, he committed suicide.She spent most of the first part of that semester in a daze, depressed and often crying. In a chemistry class — a course she failed — her twin sister tricked an academically and athletically successful boy into giving Carolyn the shirt off his back. When Elias Armendariz asked the twin what was wrong with her sister, she told him that Carolyn wanted to wear his shirt. He gave it to her. Still, because they ran in different circles, he didn’t start talking to her until he learned that she scored in the high percentile on standardized tests.Carolyn begged to join the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, which helps underachieving students with high academic potential prepare for college. She got in and began to excel. After a year at the University of Texas at San Antonio majoring in psychology she transferred to UTA and was encouraged to major in political science after expressing an interest in law.Law had appealed to her since she was about 14 and watched her mother, who was born in Mexico, preparing to take the test to become a U.S. citizen.“I remember her practicing the Pledge of Allegiance,” Carolyn said.Both of her parents have been an inspiration, she said, noting that her father taught her to read before she started school. John F. Ruiz is a retired military man who was deployed to Iraq while Carolyn was in high school. She thinks her father’s absence was one of the reasons she started acting up.Carolyn graduated from UTA in May — as did that boyfriend she met in chemistry class, who earned a degree in applied industrial mathematics.Elisabeth Cawthon, professor of history and interim director of UTA’s year-old Pre-Law Center, calls Carolyn “the classic 4.0 student” who had law schools “fighting over her.”Carolyn was accepted at Southern Methodist University, UT-Austin, Cornell and Virginia law schools. Then last month Harvard Law School called, offering Carolyn a spot and grant money. She and Elias, who plan to get married, head to Cambridge next month, where she will study law and he’ll go to work.After becoming a lawyer, she plans to keep helping and trying to inspire others to believe that they, too, can realize their dreams.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders