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Harvard beckons for former Mission student

Despite doubts, Ledezma feels Harvard's offer is one he can't refuse

How does a student who graduates from high school with a 1.5 grade point average wind up with an invitation to attend Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government?

It’s complicated.

The story of Marco Ledezma takes many turns and paths, including Mission College...a conversation with the president of Mexico...and an offer that may be too good to refuse.

But it begins in Mexico, where Ledezma was born 24 years ago. As a child, Marco was a model student in a good school in his native Acapulco. Then the family decided to immigrate to the United States. Not once, but several times.

“We came to the US, then we went back,” he recalled. “Then, we’d go back to Mexico and come back again,” he said. “It seems like we did that countless times. So I never really settled in a school and I never got a chance to learn English.”

" Of all the colleges, Mission is the school I really liked best because it's small and feels like community."

When the family did finally settle here, Ledezma was 16. It took him over a year to master English, after which his grades at Los Angeles High began to improve slightly. But the “lost years” before that hurt him academically and his final grade point average was abysmal.

Disappointed at how poorly he had done in school, Ledezma decided on community college. But an accident suffered by his mother, with whom he is very close, put off his education and forced him to work. Once he got back on track, however, there was no stopping him.

During a two-semester period, Ledezma earned about 80 units and three Associate degrees. He attended five Los Angeles Community College District campuses, including Mission, averaging seven hours of class each day. He recalls studying on buses all over town as he went from one college to another, and eating brown-bag meals on the run.

“Of all the colleges, Mission is the school I really liked best because it’s small and feels like community,” he said. “I got to know my professors well. I really liked Professor (Charles) Dirks’ government classes, and Mr. (Stan) Levine’s cinema class was outstanding.”

Ledezma and one of his favorite Mission College instructors, Charles Dirks
Ledezma subsequently earned Bachelor’s degrees from UCLA, the University of Judaism, and California Christian University (in Riverside). He is completing work on a second Master’s degree now. His academic expertise lies in two fields: government and religion, which he believes are central to a possible career with the United Nations.

Back now to Harvard.

Last December, Ledezma visited relatives in Acapulco. Those relatives are well-connected politically in Mexico, Ledezma said, and as a result he had an opportunity to be part of a small group that discussed Mexico’s future with President Vicente Fox. After learning that Marco was attending UCLA, Fox asked him about his future, said Ledezma.

“I told him I wanted to go to Princeton,” recalled Ledezma, adding with a smile: “But then he said, ‘No, it would be better if you went to Harvard.’ (Fox) said he would write a letter for me to Harvard – and he did! That moved the process forward pretty fast, and I got accepted soon after that.”

About two-third’s of Ledezma’s tuition at Harvard will be paid by Mexico. But, in return, Marco will have to work for at least four years in the Mexican government following his graduation.

“I’m still undecided because of the loans (he’d have to secure) and the commitment to work for Mexico for that long of a period,” he said. “But I know it’s a huge opportunity…everybody keeps telling me that.”

Pausing for a moment, Ledezma then quotes advice that probably counts more than that of the President of Mexico or any politically connected relatives.

“My mom thinks it’s a great chance – and she says, ‘Go for it.’ “

– BY EDUARDO PARDO / Photos: Lydia Chung and Eduardo Pardo