Joseph Valadez received a lot of love when he posted his CSU Long Beach graduation photos last week. The viral post with Valadez’s inspirational message has received nearly 400,000 likes. With what seemed like all the odds stacked against him, Valadez persevered and secured a spot on the President’s Honor List and qualified for the Dean’s List with a 3.67 GPA at CSULB. Valadez’s educational journey began at Orange Coast College.
“I wouldn’t be at Long Beach if it wasn’t for Orange Coast College,” Valadez said. “[OCC] is set up for a person not to fail, if he has the willingness and desire to want to get an education.”
Born and raised in Orange County, Valadez was introduced to drugs early in his childhood. He joined the Army in 1976, where he was stationed at Fort Hood and later spent two and a half years in Germany.
In 1980, Valadez was discharged from the Army, and five months later, he would go to prison for the first time. While struggling with addiction, Valadez spent nearly 40 years of his life, in and out of, “a revolving door” of the prison system.
“I gave up on my dreams early because of drug abuse,” Valadez said.
But he started chasing his dreams again after nearly four decades with the help from the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Anaheim.
“I was tired of going to prison. I was tired of waking up sick,” Valadez said.
He got to walk away on his own terms. The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center allowed Valadez to stay at the center for a year. “That’s where I found a new belief system and Joseph found Joseph,” Valadez said.
Prior to the pandemic, Valadez mentored the men at the Salvation Army every Wednesday for six years.
During Valadez’s first year at OCC in 2014, he faced challenges. “I flunked three levels of math,” he said. “There was a time I almost quit because I couldn’t get math.”
Valadez scored low points during the math placement test because he had not taken Algebra before. “I didn’t know an exponent from a polynomial, man. I swear,” he said.
However, Valadez would learn to take every opportunity to connect with his professors at OCC and apply the same tools at CSULB. “I was one of the students who would ask all the stupid questions. I would bug the professors on their office hours,” he said.
OCC’s Admission & Records Specialist Senior Jami Jacobi remembers when Valadez would come into their office in 2015 for more printer ink. “I guess you could say that is my first memory of him, as he sure went through a lot (of ink),” Jacobi said, a testament of his dedication to his education.
Valadez also credits OCC’s Veterans Counselor, Alex Rojas for supporting him at the Veterans Center, as well as encouraging him to apply to CSU Long Beach.
“[Joseph] was a role model for veteran and nonveteran students,” Rojas said. “[Joseph] would say, ‘I know I don’t look like I belong here, but I do’ and he truly does.”
Valadez thanks everyone who supported him during his time at OCC: Jamie Blair from Self Paced, the tutors at the OCC Math Center, Social & Behavioral Sciences Professor Rachel Ridnor, and many more.
Looking back, Valadez realizes that if he knew what he knows now, when he was younger, he would have saved his family a lot of heartache, pain and misery. For kids these days, Valadez offers advice. “Don’t get influenced by outside forces,” he said. “Don’t get influenced by people that are doing shady things.”
So what’s next for Joseph Valadez?
“My thing would be working with at-risk youth,” he said. “Who helps the kids that are teeter tottering? Because I remember a time in my life when I was teeter tottering”.
Valadez is waiting to hear if he will be accepted into CSU Long Beach’s Master of Social Work Program.