Alumni Spotlight: How Anthonny Ruiz, '23, turned his life around through higher education
Posted by Seattle University Alumni Association on Wednesday, June 14, 2023 at 12:00 PM PDT
Earlier this month, Anthonny Ruiz, '23, walked across the stage at Climate Pledge Arena as a first-generation college graduate, having received a degree in Strategic Communications with honors. He made it look easy, but his journey to this moment was anything but smooth. Ruiz’s success at Seattle University is a testament to his perseverance, character and the power of education that changed the trajectory of his life.
Growing up in the Seattle area as one of three children in a single-parent household, Ruiz’s mother worked two to three jobs to support the family. Ruiz watched his brothers become involved with gangs and drugs, following them into that lifestyle as a he grew older. Despite being told he was “bright, smart and gifted,” Ruiz barely graduated high school with a 1.2 GPA.
“I remember coming home from school wondering if our lights would be on and many times they would not be,” he recalls. “We would have a difficult time knowing when and where our next meal was coming from. Although my mother did her very best, she struggled through most of my childhood.”
After graduating high school, Ruiz became an active gang member, following the footsteps of his brothers. His gang involvement caused him to be in and out of jail and ultimately sentenced to four years in prison. While incarcerated, Ruiz decided he was done with gangs and resolved to turn his life around by pursuing higher education.
“I ate food with inmates who had been in prison longer than I had been alive. I learned that was not the life I wanted,” Ruiz says. “I was released in November 2017, and I knew I wanted to go to school and make something of myself.”
After earning his associate degree from Shoreline Community College in 2021, Ruiz began applying to schools to earn a bachelor’s degree. He was looking for an experience where he could connect to professors personally and feel at home. When applying to SU, Ruiz shared his story of a challenging childhood, gang life and eventual incarceration.
“The response I received from the school—open arms, all encompassing—made this decision for me an incredibly easy one,” Ruiz says. “I made the decision to attend SU because it felt like I was supposed to be here.”
And he was right.
SU opened doors for Ruiz to excel as a student and gain career experience, and he was provided the financial help necessary through scholarships made possible by generous donors. Without the constant worry of meeting basic needs like rent and groceries, Ruiz was able to become that bright and smart student his high school teachers knew he could be. Through this scholarship support, including the Benjamin N. Dijulio Family Scholarship, he was able to reduce his working hours and focus more on his studies. He was also able to acquire working experience in his goal career field of public relations.
In his two years at SU, Ruiz received National Honor Society recognition and made the President’s and Dean’s List multiple times. He also completed two internships at nonprofit organizations in Seattle involving marketing, public relations and communications and later worked as the Media Relations Intern at the Albers School of Business and Economics. Also valuable—the connections with professors and mentors who provided guidance.
After living in Seattle his whole life, Ruiz is planning to relocate to Dallas, Texas. With the tools gained from his SU education, he is applying to public relations firms with the goal to land a position where he can work with clients across different industries and ultimately work for an organization with an in-house public relations department.
Looking back, Ruiz says he is grateful to SU for believing in him and providing the financial support he needed to succeed.
“People make mistakes, but they can be rehabilitated if given adequate support,” says Ruiz. “By seeing my potential, the university is truly living its values—imagining what I can accomplish, not what I’ve done in the past.”