A. Garcia / SFVS

Robert Padilla with his mother, Candida Guerrero (left) and his second mom, aunt Lourdes Serrano.

“Committed.” “Focused.” “Disciplined.”

Those are some of the accolades for Robert Padilla, who recently graduated from San Fernando High School and is preparing for his next level of education.

He’s getting lots of help. Padilla, 19, who grew up in Pacoima, is one of 20 from the Los Angeles region (and one of 100 selectees nationwide) to receive a $250,000 scholarship from the Posse Foundation.

The money is to cover tuition, room and board — and pretty much everything else — at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS), a private liberal arts school in Geneva, New York, where tuition alone is more than $50,000 per year. HWS is one of 57 schools that enroll Posse Foundation awardees.

The scholarship covers both undergraduate and graduate school.

Padilla is an honors student with a 3.9 GPA, and also played varsity basketball.

His commitment and effort to excel exemplifies how to face life’s challenges and obstacles, and overcome them.


For Padilla, the challenges started when he was pretty young.

“When I was little I was hit by a car, so it made me lose one entire [school] year,” he said, in explaining why he’s graduating at age 19.

Padilla was at first raised by a single mom — Candida Guerrero — but at age 11 he was taken away from her and ended up splitting time between his mom’s house and living with his aunt and uncle, Lourdes Serrano and Robert Guerrero.  He said his uncle has “mainly been my father figure,” and “he’s done an excellent job.”

They all love him and are celebrating his achievement.

“I’m very proud of him. He’s always been a good kid,” Candida Guerrero said. “When he focuses on something, he gets it done.

“He’s got a lot of drive, a lot of determination,” she said.

“He’s very disciplined,” Serrano said of her nephew. “We’re very impressed with his commitment. School always comes first.”

Robert Guerrero added his praise. ”What I admire about him is his self-discipline. No matter what the weather was, he was up and ready to go to school every day.”

The Scholarship

Those attributes helped Padilla earn a scholarship from the Posse Foundation which, since 1989, has strived to identify, recruited and trained more than 7,728 high school students from public high schools around the country with extraordinary academic and leadership potential — but may have been overlooked by traditional scholarship processes — to receive four-year, full tuition scholarships. According to its website, Posse Scholars graduate at a rate of 90 percent. 

 Other SFHS graduates have been selected for a scholarship, including William Samayoa, who is currently attending HWS.

Teachers nominate students for the honor. There were more than 2,600 this year from the Los Angeles area and more than 20,000 from around the country. All of them went through several rounds of interviews in the application process.

Padilla thinks his upbringing helped him reach this point.

“The life I lived really molded me. I was really honest and full of potential,” he says.

The scholarship will allow him to develop that potential.

“Growing up, I always had aspirations of going to college, but I didn’t know how to pay for it,” said Padilla, a poised, respectful young man who wants to study economics and minor in entrepreneurial studies.

He says he dreamed of going to UCLA (where he was also accepted), but not having to worry about how to pay for college “is a dream come true.”

“When they told me I was getting the scholarship I was extremely emotional,” Padilla confides. “When they told me I was going to a private school, I was even more excited.”

Going to the college in Geneva, which is about four hours north of New York City, will require some getting used to. But Padilla, who visited the school in March, described it as a “cozy campus” where it “felt like home.” He will leave for the East Coast in August; classes start in September.

“It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a major change and a major challenge, but we’re all proud of him,” Serrano said.

“I don’t even want to think [he’s leaving], but it’s for his own life,” adds Robert Guerrero.

They all know he will do great.

No one believes it more than Padilla.

“The mentality I developed (growing up) was that things would take care of themselves,” he said. “I’ve seen the good and the bad examples in my community and that’s taught me what to do and what not to do.”

So far, he’s been doing everything right.