Formerly Homeless UT Freshman Sara Escobar Defies the Odds

Four minutes. That was all the precious time that now-UT freshman Sara Escobar had to deliver her salutatorian address on June 1, 2019, to some 2,000 people at her Dallas-area Chester W. Nimitz High School graduation ceremony.  

With a composed demeanor well beyond her 17 years, Escobar revealed  a secret that only her closest friends had known the last four years. With just eight simple words, Escobar stunned the crowd: “I am the salutatorian, and I am homeless.”  

“It was really hard to share,” she says. “Just standing on a stage in front of 2,000 people and telling them I’m homeless was a really hard decision for me. I wasn’t really thinking about myself. I wanted to inspire people.”   

This summer, Escobar was preparing for her new life in Austin. “I think about UT every day,” she tells me. “I have a wide variety of emotions. I’m scared about the classes. But I think I’ll get through it. I have faith in myself that I’ll get through it.”  

While the physical distance from Dallas to Austin is just some 180 miles, Escobar, who is majoring in biology, feels half a world away from the life she knew growing up with her parents. She said as long as she can remember, her family was “always struggling.” Her mother currently works as a waitress at a diner in Dallas, and her dad works in construction.  

Her father has other children, but according to Escobar, he was mostly absent in their lives, while her mother also has two other sons.  

 “I feel like I was the first child that they both really latched on to, like they had a bond with,” Escobar says. “It makes us all really close. We feel like that’s all we have. I am the only kid my dad has been around since day one.”  

Since she first enrolled in high school, Escobar and her parents have lived in more than seven places, including run-down apartments, motels, a homeless shelter, an old house belonging to a friend, and a non-running van. But now, as she settles into her dorm on campus with her roommate and childhood friend, for the first time in a long time, she has a place to call home.   

Despite not having a stable home to grow up in, Escobar was determined to excel. She had an outstanding cumulative grade point average by the time she graduated high school, and plans to become a dentist. Even with her family’s hardships, Escobar’s parents pushed the value of education on her. “They always stressed to me that education is going to be the only way out of this. A lot of families get stuck in that cyclical poverty,” she says. “This is my only way to break that cycle. I have nothing else.”  

She knows where she has been, and will tell the rags-to-riches story, with one caveat: that those early years were really not rags but hardships meant to happen to her tight-knit family. She never points fingers or assigns blame, preferring instead to focus on the positive and that maybe, just maybe, her upbringing helped get her where she is now.   

She sometimes wonders if her life had been different, would she have had the drive to accomplish all that she already has. “Maybe I wouldn’t have focused on education so much and then I wouldn’t be going to UT Austin or I wouldn’t have graduated second,” she says. “So, I’m pretty grateful for being in my situation.” At presstime, she has been at UT for a couple of months.   

“A lot of kids get discouraged really easily,” she says. “In [high school] biology, I failed a lot of tests in that class. I had never failed that many tests in one class. I kept going and kept learning. For a lot of kids, they just kind of give up. I don’t want that in my life. My priority is education, because it’s my way out.” 

A previous version of this article appeared in Facility Manager magazine. 


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