Opportunity Scholar Stories

Meet Anthony

When Anthony Garay was younger, he seemed to struggle in his classes and his attendance declined. School just didn’t come easily for him. But when he won a chess tournament in middle school, it taught him that if he wanted something badly enough, he could make it happen. His grandfather, James, was also always in his corner telling Anthony how proud he was. Still, his struggles in school reduced the opportunities available to Anthony. The many requirements needed to complete high school and the pressure to figure out his future felt overwhelming.

While living in Longview with his grandfather, Anthony worked toward finishing his high school diploma at Lower Columbia College. He also made plans to join the Air Force and had even gone to the military entrance processing station in preparation before falling very ill with an unknown sickness. He was admitted to intensive care for three days and in the hospital for five more when he was told that he has Type I Diabetes. With his new diagnosis, Anthony’s plans to join the Air Force were derailed and he struggled to find his new path forward. In Anthony’s words, he started hanging around the wrong crowd of people, ultimately culminating in his incarceration.

Just these setbacks alone would send many people into a tailspin, but even with all these challenges in his path, Anthony knew he had potential. While in prison, he quickly earned his GED after just one quarter in 2017. Shortly thereafter, Anthony worked as a teacher’s aide for Walla Walla Community College’s GED instructor Ginger Burnett, and he even went on to earn his one-year certificate in welding. Despite having earned a GED and welding certificate, Anthony wanted more. Ginger could see Anthony’s potential and passion for learning, so she printed out information for Anthony to learn more about becoming an engineer. After being released in March 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Anthony struggled to find work and ultimately decided to return to Lower Columbia College to pursue an AAS degree in welding. He is now a two-time certified welder through the Washington Association of Building Officials and currently taking classes five days a week as a Machine Shop student—driving 45 minutes each way to the Lower Columbia College campus. 

Recently while attending WSU Vancouver’s Preview Days virtually, Anthony met Dr. John Lynch, the Clinical Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Electrical Engineering program. That meeting was the inspiration Anthony needed, and he plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering after he graduates from community college.

He lives in Centralia, in a two-bedroom townhouse. By chance, he ran into the owner and property manager and told them about his past—and what he’s planning for his future—both of which they appreciated. Anthony now works and goes to collegeboth full-time. He doesn’t have much free time, but when he does have a free moment, he thinks about even more things he wants to accomplish and adds those goals to his list. His goals keep him motivated.

When Anthony got his WSOS acceptance letter, he was so proud. It showed him that he’s heading in the right direction and that WSOS believes in him. Anthony talked about a few of the people who have believed in him and how much that has continued to be part of his motivation to continue striving for his potential.

In May 2020, Anthony’s grandfather passed away. He wishes his grandfather could have seen him go on to a university. But Anthony’s grandmother tells him she’s proud every time she sees him—sometimes more than once. Anthony isn’t just focused on achieving his own goals—he’s interested in helping others. He loves helping other potential students fill out the notoriously complex FAFSA and encourages them to go to college like he is. He plans to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in 2021, using his skills to help build homes for low-income families.

In May 2021, Anthony found out he was accepted to WSU Vancouver to begin his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering after he graduates from Lower Columbia College in June 2021.