When the diplomas are handed out next Friday at UTHealth Medical School, one of the newly-minted doctors will have made that journey against all odds.
Nate Avila was born to a single mother who did the best she could to raise four boys. Nate's father was locked up, fighting a losing battle against drugs and alcohol addiction.
His childhood was spent in a series of rough neighborhoods.
"I remember having to run from gangs," Avila recalled, "or see a drug deal that you're not supposed to see, and that brings a lot of fear. One of the things that I saw when I was young was a drive-by shooting."
As Nate Avila remembers it, his family was homeless for a time – forced to move in with family and friends, in and around the Houston area.
Avila worked hard to get through college at UTSA, and then medical school. So how did he transcend his environment when so many others succumbed to it?
You may want to ascribe his success to some inner quality and perhaps you're right. He chalks up his achievements to discipline – driven by sports, church and his mother.
"I just believed what my mom said," Avila said. "You could be anything. And I said, okay, let's just try."
Still, Nate Avila sees very little difference between himself and his childhood friends – some of whom ended up in prison.
"The reason I'm here about to graduate medical school – and the reason they are where they are – is just a few decisions."
Avila wants to pursue a career in internal medicine, treating the sick, the poor and the uninsured. He says it will be his way of giving back.