Raymond Arias wants to reach for Stanford or Harvard and provide for his parents
In a senior class full of resilient and accomplished graduates, Raymond Arias still stands out.
The Tualatin High School Class of 2021 graduate is moving on into a world that holds greater uncertainty for he and his peers than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. This year’s graduates have endured a historic pandemic, devastating wildfires, widespread social protests and political violence. But none of that is standing in the way of Arias, who has his sights set on a college degree and possibly a future in politics.
He even dreams of being able to provide for his parents, who didn’t have the same opportunity for an education. Even after being accepted to the University of California-Berkeley last year, however, Arias was forced by financial circumstances to put that opportunity aside for the time being and take a gap year in order to save money, take care of his family, and study for the ACT exam he never had the chance to take as a senior.
“I’m just going to study for that and get as high of a score as I can to help me out with the application to make it more competitive,” Arias said. “I got into Berkeley last year, but it was a lot of money. I would say the dream would be Stanford or Harvard, but I’m fine with anything as long as I get financial aid. Because my parents didn’t have the opportunities I had, I just want to make sure that I’m able to provide for them in the future, I mean every kid wants to.”
Arias has already built an impressive resume to attach to any college application and has been a vital member of Tualatin High School’s ASB Student Council. But that’s just the start of his interest in politics. He served as President of the Oregon Association of Student Councils and has worked closely with the Oregon Coalition of School Administrators and the Department of Education to lobby state legislators for the passage of a $9.3 billion budget to fund public schools over the next two years. He also found time to take part in the legislature’s Capitol Ambassadors program for high school students.
“That’s kind of what I am referencing when I talk of advocacy and that’s been taking a lot of my time up,” he said. “And I’m thinking I’m going to get an internship this summer at the State Legislature.”
Arias credits Tigard-Tualatin School Board member Ben Bowman for being an inspiration to him. He worked on Bowman’s 2020 Oregon Senate campaign, and last fall also dove into supporting the campaign of State Rep. Courtney Neron, whose District 26 covers Tigard and Tualatin, among other locales. He also spent time trying to get classmates who were of age to register to vote.
“He’s been a really big inspiration to me and in staying involved in politics,” Arias said. “I just got interested and the last election was pretty good. It was exciting to see how an election really unfolds, because the last time we had an election we were in eighth grade and we didn’t really know anything about politics.”
His relentless optimism tends to find the positive side of things. This includes politics, of course, where Arias found inspiration even in the midst of the most divisive general election in modern times.
“It inspired me,” Arias said. “We’ve had experience in student council, and that’s always been my biggest joy throughout high school, being part of student council and organizing events and just trying to find solutions for the student body. But now I’m relaying that in a more real-world sense, which is where my passion comes from.”
With all that he is doing, it might sound surprising that his biggest challenge during the past school year has been staying motivated.
“I think motivation was sometimes really tough, because I’m someone who thrives off the energy of the other people in person,” he said. “That’s something that was hard for me. And having to take care of my little brother who is only four years old and he has a learning disability, it’s tough to balance all those things and also work.”
Because of those obligations, Arias elected to stay the course with virtual classes this spring even as some of his classmates were able to return to limited in-person instruction. But he at least was able to meet in person recently with fellow Student Council members.
“We’ve been able to meet more recently just because restrictions have been a little lifted,” he said. “We’ve been able to have a semblance of the environment we used to have in the classroom, so that’s been pretty fun.”