LIVE OAK (CBS13) – When Felipe Valdez’s family told him to shoot for the stars, he went big and did just that. Born in Yuba City, he moved to Mexico as an infant where he grew up in poverty with a father battling alcohol and drug addiction. He returned to Northern California as a teenager hoping to turn his life around.

“Leaving my parents, that was probably one of the most difficult times, very very tough times, but I knew that I had to leave that very toxic environment,” said Felipe.

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Not only did he graduate high school and college with honors, but he also just earned his Master’s Degree from UC Davis in Aerospace Engineering. He’s now preparing to start a job at NASA.

Felipe credits his success to his family’s support, many whom he didn’t even know until he was 16 years old.

“Dedication. Dedication and effort. If you put the effort you can do whatever you want,” said Felipe.

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“I know that God blessed us with the opportunity of learning how to parent and there were probably some mistakes along the way, but this is the result and we are so proud of him,” said his Aunt Rocio Valdez.

Putting the graduation ceremony on a projector in the front yard for all to see and hosting a parade outside for all to hear, Felipe’s family hopes his story is an inspiration during a time of uncertainty when many need hope.

“I hope that he inspires people across all races, across all cultures, so that they can be someone in this world that will make a big change, a positive impact,” said Rocio.

“I would suggest students who are starting like me, struggling like me with things in life, always try to find those mentors,” said Felipe.

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When Felipe’s family told him to shoot for the stars, he took it seriously. Now that he’s landed a job with NASA, he’s already working toward a trip to Mars.