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Courage and Conviction: Alumnus Burton Rojas Returns to Pepperdine
In high school, Burton Rojas (JD '04, SOL) didn't want to go to college because he didn't see the point. Growing up in Turlock, California, as the 10th of 11 children, he eschewed studying, without the slightest inkling that he would someday be an attorney and mentor reluctant students such as himself.
"Looking over the years, it's amazing that I'm here now," says Burton. Encouraging him forward were his parents, whose lives illustrated dreams fulfilled. In fact, his mother finished her master's degree while seven months pregnant with her 11th child. She took classes while raising the kids, worked hard, and became a high school teacher. "I don't have to look far for inspiration," says Burton. "The fact that I have degrees is a testament to my parents."
His first degree came from Brigham Young University, where he met longtime friends José and Fidel. Like Burton, José and Fidel cared about education and mentoring, and together they initiated a program to help inner-city youth.
Because he wanted to solve problems on a bigger scale, Burton looked to law school. He chose Pepperdine out of a handful of options, but it wasn't until September of his first year that he truly felt the impact of that decision. It was September of 2001. On top of the 9/11 attacks which sent the country into mourning, Burton's father turned terminally ill. Caught between law school and a family emergency, Burton spoke with his professors who encouraged him to be with his father. "Every one of my professors said, ‘Family is more important,'" he says.
Following 9/11, the law school held a prayer service, which has become something of a legend at the school. During the service, Burton sang a Native American prayer song with a hand drum. Although he was no stranger to performing, he became nervous as emotion welled up in him so strongly that he thought he might fall over. Instead, he looked out at the faces of classmates, many who knew about his father. "I could feel my classmates holding me up," says Burton. "There was so much emotion. No one in that room will ever forget that experience." People who were there call it incredible and say Burton was an instrument who relieved their pain.
Subsequent to law school, Burton faced another challenge: passing the bar. After failing the exam twice, many would quit or at least try in an "easier" state. "It was easy to think maybe I'm not cut out for this, says Burton. "But, there was no way I was going to give up." On the third try, he passed and felt relief that he could finally put energy into new projects. His new projects center on what he has always cared about: education. He teaches people how to use computers at an Apple store and works at Pepperdine in the Clinical Law Office, supervising site visits.
"My life and philosophy are a credit to my parents," he says. "I may not be the smartest, fastest, strongest, or best looking person, but if I keep trying, I will get somewhere."
Without a doubt, Burton will accomplish his future goals—with the kindness and courage that are his trademark.
by Emily DiFrisco