Billy Joe Ortiz explains how a college education made an impact on his life.
From the outset, Billy Joe Ortiz doesn’t look like a typical college student. Now in his mid-thirties, Ortiz says he understands the importance of family, work, and especially failure. Failure, he said, shaped his plans for a better life.
Covered in tattoos, Ortiz says his markings are windows into his life and his job experience as a piercer at a local tattoo shop for almost 20 years.
Ortiz said in Aug. 2000 he dropped out of high school and began working at the tattoo shop, and has worked there ever since. Over the course of nearly 20 years, Ortiz said he became a husband and father but went through a divorce that impacted him tremendously.
“I was married for over 17 years,” Ortiz said. “I've always wanted to be a dad, and when I had that opportunity I would always tuck them in. So when everything ended, it crushed me.”
The adjustment was difficult, Ortiz said, but years later, he considered a different career path for his children. The one obstacle he had to face however was considering how to return and finish his education.
“I show my kids all the books I have to write about and all the papers I have done so far so they can realize that I am really stepping it up.You have to do it for your kids, if nothing else. You are doing it for yourself, but you want to show them you can do it. After all, kids will always look up to you.”
Ortiz said he gave himself five years. His plan was to wrap up his GED within one year, and eventually obtain his bachelor degree within the next four years. By taking his GED courses at Region One Education Service Center in Edinburg, Ortiz said he completed his GED requirements in four months, far ahead of his initial plan.
Ortiz said the moment he decided to return to school changed him because he suddenly realized he had never set goals for himself. Being out of school for so long had become a routine between work and home. Through the encouragement of friends and family however, Ortiz said he opted to take the first step and receive his GED.
He enrolled at STC in the spring of 2015, and to his surprise, he maintained a 4.0 GPA for an entire year. His decision to become a history teacher came from a natural curiosity he discovered while attending classes, and from his grandfather who was a prisoner of war in World War II.
“I remember my grandfather would tell me stories when I was a kid, which caused me to ask a lot of questions like ‘why does there have to be war?’, ‘how did he get captured?’, or ‘why did he have to get captured?’” Ortiz said. “I'm going into teaching history because I found myself always asking questions, and I felt so comfortable in front of a class. When I was taking my education class, I had to be in front of the class and I loved it. I realized ‘I'm a teacher now.’”
Ortiz received his associate degree in secondary education at STC in 2017 and then transferred to UTRGV to complete his bachelor degree in Social Studies Composite.
“I show my kids all the books I have to write about and all the papers I have done so far so they can realize that I am really stepping it up,” Ortiz said. “You have to do it for your kids, if nothing else. You are doing it for yourself, but you want to show them you can do it. After all, kids will always look up to you.”