Daniel Ramirez
CU Denver junior Daniel Ramirez speaking during the Denver Public Schools Foundation Achieve Gala. Photo by Evan Semón Photography.

Daniel Ramirez likes to tell people about the phone call that changed his life. It was a call from the University of Colorado Denver, telling him he’d earned a full scholarship.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Ramirez said. “I looked around for cameras wondering if it was a joke! Then I realized it was actually happening!”

For Ramirez, the call was like a miracle. His dream is to become a doctor, and he’s on his way as a junior majoring in biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). But for a long time when he was growing up, his ambition felt out of reach.

That was until that fateful phone call.

“So many doors opened for me,” Ramirez said.

Remembering where he came from

Ramirez told his inspiring story at the Denver Public Schools Foundation’s annual Achieve gala on April 27. The fundraiser drew nearly 1,000 guests, including leaders from government and the business and philanthropic communities.

If Ramirez was nervous, he didn’t show it. It might have been because three years ago, he spoke to the same gala as a graduating high school senior. His story then was much different, and it could have been a sad one about dashed dreams.

Ramirez is an immigrant whose parents brought him to the U.S. from Mexico when he was a child. Growing up, he didn’t have many of the advantages college-bound students have.

“I come from a family where college is foreign to us. My parents have grade-school educations,” he said.

They instilled in Ramirez a belief in the importance of education. He excelled academically at North High School, earning a 3.5 GPA. Teachers inspired him and nurtured his interest in science.

DPS Foundation Achieve Gala
Guests at the Denver Public Schools Foundation Achieve Gala. Photo by Evan Semón.

Ramirez thrived outside the classroom, too. He captained North’s football and swimming teams and ran track. He played in the honors jazz band.

When the time came to consider colleges, he applied to almost every university in Colorado. Every one he applied to accepted him. However, money remained an issue.

“I had no idea how I’d pay for college,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez dreamed of playing football and was good enough to draw interest from college teams. When he was a junior, it looked like an athletic scholarship from a university in Colorado was a possibility. Then Ramirez suffered a severe knee injury that required major surgery. He was only able to play one game in his senior year, and all but one college team lost interest. A small college in Iowa offered him a partial scholarship. It wasn’t enough though, and Ramirez knew he didn’t want to move that far from home.

It looked like Ramirez would have to put his dream on hold. “I was going to go work in construction and hopefully make enough money to go to college,” he said.

Then his fortune changed.

‘He is going to go to college’

It started at the DPS Foundation’s gala three years ago. Before his speech, Ramirez met then-Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia. They talked, and Daniel told Garcia he didn’t know if he’d be able to go to college.

Ramirez then delivered his speech. It wowed the audience of DPS benefactors and was the talk of the evening. Afterward, Garcia chatted with Denver philanthropist Barbara Grogan, who asked about Ramirez. Garcia told her about the student’s situation.

“She said, ‘Go tell that young man right now that he is going to go to college,’” Ramirez said.

“I thank God for such a great journey and the path it has provided for my future.”

Garcia returned to Ramirez, relayed Grogan’s message, and gave him his business card and told him to keep in touch. What happened next changed Ramirez’s life.

“About a week-and-a-half later, I received a call from the University of Colorado Denver offering me an academic scholarship. I said yes, and here I am in my junior year of college,” he said.

Ramirez thanked Grogan and Garcia, as well as his mentors, teachers and the supporters of the Denver Public Schools Foundation.

“They’re a huge reason why I’m here,” Ramirez said. “The last time I stood on this stage it changed my entire life. It changed everything for me.”

“I thank God for such a great journey and the path it has provided for my future.”

His next steps

Now, Ramirez is busy with challenging classes and getting ready for the medical school entrance exam. His hope is to attend the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

“I love Colorado and would love to stay in state so I can stay close to my family. And CU Anschutz has a very good reputation,” he said.

Whatever the future holds, Ramirez will always work hard to give back and be an inspiration.

“I believe in giving back and I was raised to never forget where I came from,” Ramirez said. “I know what it is to be hungry.”

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