On any given day, Ulysses Estrada can be found consulting clients in a bustling building just steps from the White House, visiting one of Washington, D.C.’s many museums, rowing on the Potomac River, or wandering through the hip D.C. neighborhood near Union Station that he calls home.
“It’s close to the action,” says Estrada. “Having this much autonomy is liberating but also challenging.”
The challenge is a near-constant list of real-world to-do items like paying rent, cell phone bills, and insurance. The liberating part is far more thrilling.
“There’s a lot of fun and freedom that comes with being an adult in such a culturally important city,” says Estrada, who is building an impressive career in consulting and sales as an IBM business transformation consultant, working with clients like the Department of Homeland Security.
“What I’m contributing has value,” says Estrada, a 2013 Colorado Academy graduate who attended Wesleyan University as a self-described “gov kid.” After a particularly interesting economics course, he changed direction to focus on economics and public policy. As a double major, Estrada faced a rigorous course of study but never felt unprepared, academically or otherwise. He was a first-generation college student, but Estrada says he had a drive that can be traced back to CA, where the school and community taught him to be bold.
“I had the capacity to be an independent thinker and the intellectual confidence to make sophisticated statements and to back them up,” says Estrada.
Similarly, Estrada tapped lessons from CA when he invariably stumbled.
“If I failed, I learned from my mistakes and moved on.”
A ‘transformative’ education
When Estrada transferred to CA from STRIVE Preparatory in Grade 9, he saw himself as a young man who tried to appear mature by sporting a peach-fuzz mustache, but the CA community saw him differently—as someone with endless potential.
“CA was welcoming and friendly,” says Estrada. “People were really there to be themselves and to learn.”
Estrada points to the riddles and math challenges he devoured during the late John Threlkeld’s Advisory, the constitutional and government perspective he gained in Luis Terrazas’s AP U.S. History and Supreme Court classes, and the influential lessons from Katy Hills’s Visual Arts classes. He also worked with Meg Hill and Gwylym Cano to create an Independent Study on Chicano Studies.
The social skills he learned in those and other courses—the ability to talk to adults, for example—are practical even today. When it comes to talking to business executives and company leaders, Estrada still feels competent and confident: so much so that he is trying to introduce those same skills at STRIVE Prep, where he is a board member.
“At CA, teachers are respected as professionals and given the freedom to develop powerful curriculum, and I wonder if that buy-in is something that can be recreated elsewhere,” says Estrada. “CA is such a transformative place.”
The college essay about a mustache
At CA, Estrada dabbled in baseball, took rock climbing, backpacked for 14 days in the Sierra Nevada, and volunteered for both the Mayor’s Youth Commission and Youth Roots. And of course, Estrada capitalized on Interim, one of CA’s signature experiential learning opportunities. He rafted the Gates of Lodore and traveled to Moab with Terrazas, who on the long, monotonous drive played only one radio station: NPR.
“It was the end of the year, and we were so ready to just chill, and yet, there we were commenting on the news stories,” says Estrada, laughing at the memory. “It was awesome to be on my toes the entire time.”
So when it came time to write his Common Application essay for college, Estrada turned to his time as a young Latino boy arriving in a challenging new environment at CA. Articulating that coming-of-age experience was illuminated one evening when his mother commented on the bombastic, swaggering male telenovela character whose masculinity was defined, in her opinion, by his thick, full mustache.
Unsurprisingly, Estrada disagreed with her assessment of what confidence looked like. In his opinion, it was less about the mustache and more about how he had learned to navigate between the culture at home and the culture at CA. With that, the ultimate demise of Estrada’s mustache became the linchpin for his essay.
“People laugh every time I tell them that I wrote my college essay on my mustache,” says Estrada.
Recently Estrada applied for a Fulbright program that, if he’s accepted, will take him to Mexico City for an opportunity to take business school classes and work on multinational organization business strategy. He’s not nervous. When it comes to uncharted territory like this, Estrada always thinks about something Terrazas said frequently.
“He told us to be confident in what you don’t know,” says Estrada. “That really stuck with me.”