A dream within reach

PSU alum Eddie Ramirez advocates for undocumented students in dental school.

Eddie Ramirez is just four months away from realizing his lifelong dream. At the end of May, he will graduate from OHSU School of Dentistry and officially start his career as Eddie Ramirez, DMD.  

It’s been four years since Ramirez graduated from Portland State and began his post-secondary education at the prestigious dental program. As the PSU student commencement speaker for the class of 2014, he shared a message of perseverance with his classmates – one that he still holds true.

“Never use your story as an excuse for not accomplishing something. Use it as motivation to accomplish something,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez faced his share of challenges in his education. On the day of Eddie Ramirez's orientation to Portland State, his mother came to him in tears, devastated to tell him that his financial aid had fallen through and they couldn't pay for college. A surprise gift from one of his high school teachers paid for his first year of college before scholarships came through the following year.

As an undocumented student, Ramirez struggled to find pathways to afford his education both at PSU and OHSU, since he qualifies for no federal or state grants. He was awarded a scholarship for dental school, but it wasn’t enough to cover non-tuition expenses like gas, food and housing. He continued to work up to 20-25 hours every weekend in order to make it work.

“I had to find a way to pay for my education,” he said. “It was exhausting.”

Despite these challenges, Ramirez continued his track record of academic excellence and service to his community as a dental student. He served as president of the OHSU chapter of the American Student Dental Association for two years. One of his biggest achievements was sharing his own personal experiences with the regional council, which ultimately led to the passing of a resolution to support undocumented dental students.

Ramirez hopes the passing of the resolution will support students, and also help to bring some much-needed diversity of the dentistry field.

While Ramirez is excited to be graduating, the future is still uncertain.

“The future of DACA is still up in the air, so it’s still a possibility that I’ll be graduating without the ability to practice,” he said. “Even if I will have my license, I may not be able to legally work.”

Regardless, Ramirez is even more committed to serving his community and using his personal experiences to serve as a role model for others.

“I’m going to be fixing people’s teeth for sure, but my real goal to be the person that says, yes you can make it to your dreams,” he says. “Whether they’re teenagers or adults, I want to say – you can do this.”

Photo credit: Sash Photography