Five and a half years in the Marine Corps, working as an F-18 jet mechanic, gave Mario Lemus the framework he needed to be a dedicated student. He brought disciplined study habits learned from many military courses, leadership from supervisory positions and the wisdom that comes from adapting to military life and personal circumstances and challenges.
“My military background gave me an advantage,” says Mario. “When I presented myself to the PA program I knew what was expected of me and what I could expect of myself. I felt right at home.”
But, Mario’s real preparation for a career helping others began many years earlier when, at nine years old, he started to work alongside his parents and older siblings in the fields, migrating from state-to-state as various crops were ready for harvest. He attended many schools and struggled to learn English. His parents made attending school regularly a high priority.
“Anyone going through a harsh position in life gets to appreciate a different perspective,” says Mario. “I was conscious of my social, economic status and knew I would have to further develop myself academically to reach my potential.”
One of the most important things Mario took away from a childhood filled with both struggle and strong family ties, is an enormous empathy for others. It is what drew him to the military and their code of ‘Honor, Courage and Commitment’.
“In the military I saw a lot of individuals who have this character,” says Mario. “What they do is take care of our nation, take care of our families; they are in the business of helping other people.”
Mario’s need for a career that allows him to demonstrate this devotion to the care of others was inspired by his older brother Rafael, who is a general surgeon and his sister Guadalupe, a nurse practitioner.
“We all kind of assessed my skill set, my desire to be involved in the community and my knack for guiding individuals to a better path. We felt the PA path would be a good profession for me.”
Mario was surprised to find so many military veterans in the classroom and among faculty. It was reassuring to him. “When I saw so many veterans were part of the program, I decided I was going to be in this program, no matter what it took,” he said.
In August, 2012 Mario, his wife Roxana and their daughters Liliana, age four, and Jasmine, age two, set out to see his vision come true.
But weeks into the PA program Mario was struggling.
“I suffer academically; that’s the truth of the matter,” he says. “I have a learning deficit and it’s always something I’ve struggled with.” Mario’s solution is to dig in deeper.
“Mario is the first student here and the last to leave every day,” says Jed Grant, PA Program Director. “He has dedicated his life to serving those around him and it shows in all he says and does.”
“I see other classmates and everybody is trying their hardest,” says Mario. “I don’t feel I’m special, but I do feel I’m surrounded by special people.”
Mario cannot go any further without singling out two of those who have helped him the most. At SJVC it is fellow student and Vietnam veteran, Jeff Rubio and Monica Urmson, Assistant to PA Program Director.
“Me and Jeff are both considered the ‘rocks’ of our families and we just ended up finding each other,” says Mario. “He has so many character traits I respect…determination, drive. He is a close friend who inspires and motivates me and is a huge part of my experience here,” he says, his throat catching.
Mario is also grateful to Monica for all the support she has given him during his academic low points.
“Monica is my guiding light through a lot of this,” he says. “When you’re not performing academically, you wonder if you belong in this profession. She pushed me and believed in me a lot of times when I questioned myself.”
Mario also wants to mention his PA instructor, Aundrey Sidoreinko, who “gave me direction in which I could focus and aim my efforts.”
But, no one was as steadfast as his support team at home. Roxana, a middle school teacher, made sure that Mario felt the full force of her confidence in him.
“I stand here because she supports me spiritually, emotionally, financially,” says Mario who graduates in August.
No matter how difficult it gets, Mario does not lose sight of the goal.
“I am a mirror of values, character, leadership and so many other qualities of people who have made an impact on me,” says Mario. “I emulate these qualities out of respect for them and only want to know that what I do in my life is reflected in the people I have helped.”