Motivational speaker, manager, acheiver

Oscar Guzman's amazing ascent

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© HAWKEYE Hawkeye

Between his full time job as a Zumiez manager, going to the gym twice a day and the occasional performance on stage as a motivational speaker, senior Oscar Guzman does not have a moment to spare. Which, as it turns out, is not a problem for him, as he said he lives by the phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

A troubled life

However, his life has not always been this successful. Guzman said in middle school he had a problematic life both at home and in school. When Guzman attended Brier Terrace Middle School (BTMS), he was a self identified “troubled kid.”

He said it was partly due to his brother, a high schooler at the time.

“When I was entering middle school [my brother] was entering high school and for any younger brother you always to be just like [your older brother]. They’re your motivators, they’re your pushers and they’re basically your leadership figure in a way,” Guzman said.

Since his brother associated with gangs and people who had negative attitudes, Guzman brought that same perspective to school. He said his brother’s friends had mean attitudes, so Guzman began to be a bully in middle school.

“I wanted people to fear me, which was kind of a bad mindset to have because that’s eventually what I ended up getting,” Guzman said. “No one wanted to be my friend.”

He called himself a “hood kid” and said he was depressed at the time. During that time, he was getting very bad grades, got in trouble with teachers and administrators at school and even got arrested twice. He said he’s grateful for not having a record, though.

“I dug myself too deep,” Guzman said. “I was just stuck with my own demons.”

As he wore bright purple shoelaces, Guzman mentioned that he used to wear black all the time in middle school. He said he dressed like that because he was “soaked in sadness and anger.”

Guzman brought that same attitude to his freshman year of high school. According to MTHS Psychologist Julie Schwab, Guzman was more focused on life outside of school and his friends.

She said the people in his friend group were more focused on “questionable activities” rather than education.

Schwab still wanted to see Guzman succeed and is extremely happy he is now sharing his story with younger students who are contemplating the same lifestyle Guzman is familiar with.

“I believe in the beginning of junior year [Guzman] started to trust me a bit more and recognize that I wasn’t in the role to judge him for some illegal activity occurring in the community,” Schwab said. “My hope for [Guzman], and really for many others, is to show that there is another option.”

How he broke the cycle

It wasn’t until Guzman’s sophomore year at MTHS that he began to turn things around. He saw that this lifestyle was not benefiting him and worked incredibly hard to improve his grades and outlook on life.

He began going to the gym and focusing on his studies. Guzman shed his negative attitude for a more positive outlook on life.

It was during this time that Schwab introduced to him Mix it Up, a club which organizes lunchtime activities designed to encourage students to branch away from their set friend group.

Schwab said she approached Guzman because of his “neat character and charisma,” which was uncommon to see in a sophomore.

She said he immediately jumped on the idea and was involved in it from day one. She described him as a very active leader in the club and said he would always be of the first to email her back to say he could participate in a scheduled activity.

Schwab said she saw Guzman undergo an amazing change of character and personality during his sophomore year and stressed how proud she was of Guzman.

“I just think that something within him changed where he started developing a sense of self and trusting [others] a little bit more,” Schwab said. “I think people have always been encouraging Oscar to make good choices, but I think somehow it started to connect.”

While he was changing his attitude and lifestyle, he didn’t have much help from the sidelines. He said that no one was on his side and he had to do a lot of things alone.

Guzman then “failed forward” to junior year, a phrase he uses to describe how he used his mistakes to help him succeed later. His motivation and perseverance paid off at the end of the year, when his GPA jumped from a 3.0 to 3.9.

“I went into junior year thinking, ‘All right, it’s grinding time,’” Guzman said. “I really just committed junior year to personal growth.”

Schwab said Guzman’s accomplishments and the transformation he made during high school are of her favorite things to brag about.

“I cannot speak highly enough for [Guzman], he is truly one of a kind and I am so proud of him and his family,” Schwab said.

Guzman said he began to read books about leadership and self motivation, which helped him significantly. He spent a lot of time reading books by his favorite author, John Maxwell, which taught him valuable leadership skills.

Schwab said she would watch Guzman during lunch and noticed how, while others were staying in their own “clique,” Guzman would walk up to other lunch tables and start conversations with strangers.

She said that every student will change and mature in high school, but Guzman took it to the next level.

Troubled middle schooler turned motivational speaker

Guzman said if he saw his middle school self now, he would see a completely different person. He said he hopes his middle school self would be inspired to see such a successful and bright future.

Schwab agreed, saying he is an “entirely different kid” from his freshman self.

She is exceptionally proud of his accomplishments and the growth he has made these past few years.

“I am most proud of [Guzman] for staying true and authentic to himself and his family while also testing himself [by] taking advanced classes and being open to trying new things,” Schwab said.

Soon after he turned his life around, Guzman visited his old teachers at BTMS. He talked with counselor Hanaphi Sos and was surprised to see that Sos recognized him and his troubled past. Guzman explained to Sos that he’s turned his life around and Sos asked Guzman to sit down with a couple of middle schoolers who had the same negative outlook on life that Guzman used to have.

“I basically just talked [to the middle schoolers] about my life and how middle school was for me and where it took me and the mindset that I had and what I needed to change when I got into high school and how hard that was,” Guzman said.

Afterward, Sos asked him to speak at an assembly at BTMS.

It was a 10 minute speech and as he walked in front of everybody, he froze up. He said he wasn’t used to so many eyes being fixated on him and his nerves got the best of him. Butterflies filled his stomach and he started stuttering.

After a few minutes, this nervousness cleared and he was able to speak clearly to the BTMS students.

“That was my first actual motivational speech where I really did talk about who I was as a person growing up, how my childhood was, the people I hung out with and how it really changed me as a person and what I needed to do in order to just shape my character in order to be the person I want to be. It just kind of exploded from there,” Guzman said.

Now, speaking to a room full of people is second nature to him. Guzman said he can pick any word and go on for a while.

He used to perform as motivational speaker at middle schools once or twice a month, but hasn’t had the chance for the past couple of months.

Now, Guzman has one-on-one conversations with anyone he feel needs to be talked to, he said. Usually he will try to keep the conversation away from himself and will try to talk about the other person. If he connects with them and thinks they need that type of conversation, he will go deeper.

He said he usually has these conversations about four times a month.

“There doesn’t have to be one specific genre of situations it’s just what I think that person needs to know or needs to hear at that moment,” Guzman said.

Guzman’s high school career

Currently, Guzman is one of the managers of the Zumiez located at Alderwood Mall. He’s worked there since last year and was seen as the “golden child” by his district manager after he sold over $320,000 worth of merchandise in his first week. He said he enjoys working there because of the welcoming environment.

Along with his job, Guzman is very focused on his school work. He said the teachers at MTHS have shaped his character, especially his English teachers.

“By far my favorite class has got to be Mrs. Derr’s class,” Guzman said playfully as English teacher Gaynelle Derr passed by. “But if I had to think about teachers that really shaped my thinking, it has got to be my English teachers… because they’re so literate and everything they talk about is very logical.”

While he never finished an assigned book during his high school year, he said it was because of his English teachers that he began to read leadership books. If it wasn’t for them pushing him to always read, he may have never opened a book his junior year.

While Guzman has attended MTHS, he has been a member of DECA, Latino/a Educational Achievement Project and Colores Unidos, a club designed to strive for educational, cultural, social and political representation for Latinos. He has also been involved in numerous activities outside of school, such as volunteering.

Guzman enjoys customizing bicycles in his spare time and has entered in multiple showcases, including ones that are located at MTHS.

The summer after his sophomore year, Schwab offered Guzman a temporary job at the Edmonds School District working with technology. She said she did this because she realized his potential and wanted to “test his limits.”

She said he thrived in the summer job and took on a second one at Zumiez.

When he had two jobs, Guzman’s everyday schedule would involve waking up at 6 a.m., attending school until 1:50 p.m., working his first job until around 4 p.m., then his second job until around 7 p.m. Guzman would then begin his homework after work, which he said would usually last until 1-3 a.m., then he would go to the gym for 2-4 hours. But now he only works at Zumiez, so he only works until around 5 p.m. Afterward, he goes to the gym and works as a trainer and wakes up an hour earlier to go to the gym before school for himself.

“Instead of getting up for school, I get up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym every morning. That way I’m getting up for me and not for a teacher and it helps just to have that mindset,” Guzman said.

After high school, Guzman does not have a clear plan. He said he was thinking about going into a clothing entrepreneurship with a couple friends of his. He went into the logistics of how they would attack their business, detailing what each person would be in charge of. He said this is currently his most thought out plan for after high school.

“When you break it down it would be so easy to do it, it just takes a long time… And when I think about after high school, it would definitely be something along the entrepreneurial fields,” Guzman said.