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SMU Alum Graduated While Homeless

Raul Magdaleno
Raul Magdaleno

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Being the first in your family to graduate from college is its own personal reward. But Raul Magdaleno finished his Bachelor's degree at Southern Methodist University while living in a homeless shelter and caring for family members. KERA's Bill Zeeble talked to Magdaleno, who was honored Thursday for his work and achievements.

30 year-old Raul Magdaleno came here 28 years ago from Mexico, when his parents crossed the border illegally. He grew up in East Dallas, with 9 siblings. By the time he was a teenager, he was already volunteering with Reconciliation Outreach, a Dallas ministry group.

Magdaleno: And I knew education was the greatest weapon I had to fight poverty. I had done community service work since I was 13 years-old and I finally discovered if I really want to change things, you change them through education. It puts you on an equal playing field and it opens opportunities

Thanks to blanket amnesty in 1986, Magdaleno became a legal citizen. He attended Skyline High School, then Mt. View Community College, before transferring to SMU. But he faced a dilemma.

Magdaleno: I was supporting my elderly mother and mentally-disabled sister. When I transferred to SMU I was no longer able to work 40 hours and go to school, because the schedule wasn't as flexible as in community college. 4 months into my first semester I had to make a difficult choice, and bills and all the scholarship money I received I ended up using it to pay for medical expenses or food. I ended up in this situation.

That "situation" meant they all lived in a shelter, one run by Reconciliation Outreach, the same ministry he volunteered for.

Magdaleno: I was willing to do whatever it took , whatever, if it meant at times being homeless. If that s what it meant, I was willing to do that..
What kept me going was my community. The kids and moms and neighborhood told me "Raul we're proud of you. You make us know we can do it too."

Raul Magdaleno graduated from SMU 4 years ago, having already earned several honors for outstanding service. He travelled on a speaking tour, and says he turned down one lucrative job offer, choosing instead to work at SMU, where he's Director of Diversity and Community Engagement. Basically, he says, he's trying to help others like him. In fact, he just helped a young college graduate buy his first suit. The man will teach at a school Magdaleno helped start, to reach victims of domestic violence. Mentoring the young man, creating the school, continuing his work at SMU - he says they're all part of attaining the American dream.

Magdaleno: The American dream is whatever you want it to be. I think the American dream is opportunities. We have the opportunity to be whatever we want. It's an education it's having a home, it's being able to be involved in our community and empowering others to know, with hard work, dedication, faith, you can do anything.

Magdaleno says his mother and sister these days are fine. He now lives in a condo in Preston Hollow. He just received awards from a law firm that recognized him both as an immigrant leader and one who helps immigrants in need.