Gabriel Zapien-Ybarra was a University of Southern California fan as a child. When the University of Texas at Austin defeated his beloved Trojans in the 2006 Rose Bowl, he developed a distain for the Lone Star state. Zapien-Ybarra was sure he would never attend college in Texas.
However, he stumbled upon a Baylor Women’s Basketball game during the 2012 NCAA Tournament. At the time, he thought Baylor was on the East Coast.
“I had no idea it was in Texas,” he says. “The next few years, I followed the Lady Bears and kept up with football. Those were some good years. Lo, and behold, I ended up in Texas.”
Zapien-Ybarra says he was in some ways the black sheep of his family because he loved school.
“My family could tell from a young age that I was going to aim for the highest thing possible,” he says. “When I entered the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) in seventh grade, that’s when they realized I was going to college.”
He and his mother attended Spring Premiere during his junior year, and he immediately felt Baylor was the place for him.
“But coming to Baylor was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” he says. “I’m very close with my family. The scary part as a first-generation student was that I had no idea what to expect.”
First in Line helped Zapien-Ybarra overcome that fear.
“If I’m given something to deal with, or if I struggle or have an issue, I always try to stick with it to see if I can overcome,” he says. “But I don’t know how happy I would have been with my first year of college without First in Line.”
While his leaving California was difficult for many of his family members, especially his grandmother, Zapien-Ybarra knows his academic pursuit is a source of pride for his family.
“My grandmother is basically like my second mom; we’re very close,” he says. “They are my two biggest cheerleaders in life.”
Zapien-Ybarra surprised his mother and grandmother last Christmas, returning to California unannounced with Baylor T-shirts in their sizes.
“My mom screamed, and my grandma started crying right away,” he says. “At that moment, I felt like our relationship developed even more. They hate that I’m this far away, but they know how happy I am. They will support me no matter what.”
Zapien-Ybarra also knows attending college is a source of inspiration for others in his family, particularly his younger sister.
“She is in the eighth grade, and she is in the AVID program with the mindset of going to college,” he says. “I feel like I’ve done my job as the older sibling. I stepped through that doorway, so she can follow me.”