The Pebblebrook High School senior is attending the University of Georgia next fall. He’s undecided on a major but leaning toward engineering. While he was not accepted into Georgia Tech, UGA recently started its own engineering program, which Aranda might enroll in.
But whatever Aranda does, he wants a job that pays well so he can take care of his family.
“My parents have come from humble beginnings and I am here from humble beginnings, too,” he said. “They have shown me how to appreciate the things I have. Knowing how they work right now isn’t going to help them out in retirement in the future. I want to do as much work as I can to help them out and give them that relief of being able to retire.”
His parents, Ricardo and Aida Aranda, raised him and his brother, Ricardo, doing their best after emigrating from Mexico. Both work blue-collar jobs that do not pay well.
Ricardo Jr., now 23, is another inspiration.
Cristian’s older brother has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and is legally blind. He was orally given the writing portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test, spelling out each word he used. He failed the test by three points on his first try and got an even lower score his second time around. He was offered a certificate of attendance rather than a diploma, and stressed over the situation. But Ricardo Jr. persevered through it, passed the test on his third try and graduated from high school with a 3.8 GPA.
Seeing that determination, and helping his brother study for the test, inspired Cristian to work hard himself.
“I find it ironic that students that have the capabilities of doing great in school — of doing great things — don’t do it,” he said. “And those that don’t have it, they do it. I made it my goal to increase my grades, my extracurricular activities and get involved in the community.”
Today, Ricardo Aranda is working his way through Chattahoochee Tech. He still lives with his family but aims to live on campus when he transfers to Kennesaw State next fall.
The Aranda family attends Saint John Vianney Catholic Church in Lithia Springs. Through the church, mission trips have taken him to neighboring states to help others in need. He sees himself doing that in his career, too.
Paul Gordon, Aranda’s counselor at Pebblebrook, describes him as a young man of great character.
Gordon also coaches Aranda on the school’s tennis team. To start, Gordon says it’s amazing how fast Aranda picked up the sport.
Aranda hadn’t played the game at all prior to last year, but quickly picked up the nuances with Gordon’s encouragement and help to become a top player.
“He can hit with me, and I’ve played since I was a kid,” Gordon said.
Gordon says the effort Aranda put into learning tennis is emblematic of his general hard work. He kept going to the tennis court each day, determined to get better.
“I’d like to think my coaching had something to do with it, but a lot of it was just him going out on his own,” Gordon said. “He’s pretty much taught himself.”
Gordon’s thoughts on Aranda are shared by many of Aranda’s teachers. When school counselors sent emails to teachers asking which students would be a good match for scholarships and awards, Gordon said Aranda’s name always came back.
He sees bright things in the student’s future.
“I’d be shocked if he wasn’t continuing his education in five years,” Gordon said. “I can already see him going to graduate school.”
While Aranda is undecided on a major, Gordon said Aranda is open to new things and could find a surprising major during his time at UGA.
“He’ll take well to college,” Gordon said.
Aranda described Gordon as one of his best friends.
Despite his hard work and determination, Gordon also described Aranda as lighthearted, very social and fun.
Gordon sees Aranda as a role model for other Hispanics and is amazed that at such a young age he’s motivated by the opportunity to help his family.
“He’s definitely inspirational to me,” Gordon said. “I’m excited to see what he does next.”
Aranda is going to UGA on a patchwork of scholarships that essentially amount to a full ride. One scholarship he received is called the Goizueta Scholarship. Named after former Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta, the scholarship is available to Hispanic students. Aranda will also enter college with 12 hours of Advanced Placement credit, the equivalent of four college classes already completed.
If things go according to plan, he’ll return from Athens with a degree in hand and will finally have the ability to repay the efforts of his parents.
“My dad came from Mexico with nothing, as did my mom,” Aranda said. “They met each other, fell in love and started a family. All their efforts have been to make sure me and my brother can move forward. Right now, we live paycheck to paycheck and helping with finances has become a hardship on them. I know once I’m in college my parents still won’t have enough to cover some finances. That’s what I really want to do is help them out, because of everything they’ve done for me.”