TK Shannon Wright for NPR hide caption
toggle caption Shannon Wright for NPR
When he came to the United States 12 years ago, Edgar Velazquez hardly spoke a word of English. Most days of his first year, the 14-year-old Mexican immigrant went to the library after school to read the dictionary, determined to learn 250 words — the minimum for basic conversation.
At home, Velazquez often did his homework in the bathroom. It was the quietest spot in his family’s 500 square-foot studio in the Tenderloin, a San Francisco neighborhood with “needles on the ground and a lot of homeless on the streets,” he recalls.
His hard work paid off. Velazquez graduated from San Francisco State University last year with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He’s now applying to medical school. Over coffee at the student center on a recent Monday morning, he spoke about his journey with calm fluency.
Still, Velazquez recalls that when meeting with school instructors or lab mentors, he worried about his accent and stressed over what they might think of him, the rare Latino pursuing a biomedical career. At times “I was so nervous,” he