The inspiring SBCC 2013 commencement speaker was graduating student Robert Gutierrez, who earned degrees in mathematics, physics and chemistry.

Gutierrez said he was nervous to accept the honor of being the keynote speaker, but pushed past his fears, “because I have found that nothing in this life is worthwhile unless there is risk to achieve it.” Gutierrez’s parents migrated from Mexico to the Carpinteria area and worked long hours, leaving him without guidance or the motivation to put in an effort at school, he said. Poor decisions followed that led to a “first-class ticket” to Wasco State Prison and being in and out of jail for about seven years.

In 2008, he took his first big risk in life and enrolled at Santa Barbara City College. He said he discovered his goal to be a bioengineering researcher during an animal biology course by Blake Barron and has since been accepted to prestigious universities. Gutierrez said he couldn’t have done it without SBCC’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement Program, his girlfriend, and many professors who believed in him.

There’s a Spanish saying that, translated, is “he who seeks, will find.” Every time he was released from jail, Gutierrez said he tried a job and failed at it — but never gave up.

He said the most powerful lesson came from his prison cellmate. “You know what kid? You are very intelligent, but you’re stupid,” Gutierrez recalls him saying. Gutierrez wouldn’t accept that at first, but said he came to value the man as a mentor, and the one who finally made him realize he was focusing his energy on the wrong things.

“I went from being a troubled youth to graduating with honors from Santa Barbara City College,” he said. “I went from being a nobody, perceived as weak, to being your 2013 commencement speaker.” He ended with his lesson of his own to everyone listening: It’s never too late.

“For the children in the audience whose parents didn’t go to college, it’s not too late,” he said, in Spanish and in English. “For those who were incarcerated or told you’d never amount to anything, it’s not too late.”
(With permission from, reporter Lara Cooper)

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