STOCKTON — If helping support his family meant then-high school student Dan Arriola worked three jobs, that’s what he did.
If maintaining good grades in his Advanced Placement classes meant doing homework until the wee hours of night, that’s what he did.
If becoming the first in his family to go to college meant Arriola would find the money himself, that’s exactly what he did, guided by an unyielding determination to be accepted by the University of California, Los Angeles.
And today, Arriola has his own criminal defense practice in Stockton, and at 25 years old, he is one of the youngest attorneys to do so.
Arriola’s inspirational story will be part of this year’s Latino Leadership and Scholarship Awards event to be held Saturday by the Tracy Chamber of Commerce’s Hispanic Business Group.
A past recipient of the group’s scholarship, Arriola will be the featured speaker of the event themed “Inspiration through Education.”
Arriola is proof that perseverance eventually pays off. Not only did he make his own dreams come true, but today he also helps motivate high school students to continue reaching for their own career goals as the founder of a nonprofit organization called STRIVE, or Scholars Together to Reform Inequality in Valley Education.
Arriola’s desire to inspire youth stems from his own life.
“Unfortunately, I grew up in a very low-income household,” said Arriola, who was raised in Tracy. “I’ve been working since I was 13 or 14 years old as a janitor and housecleaner.
“I like to tell people that if you had your house cleaned between 2003 and 2007, there’s a chance I cleaned your house and toilet,” he said, laughing.
Arriola had lived in Azores, Portugal, during his early childhood after his mother, a native of Portugal, and father, who is Mexican, divorced. Portuguese was in fact his first language.
His mother, Magda Arriola, brought him back in 1993 or 1994.
“My family in Portugal were fishermen,” Arriola said. “My mom wanted us to come back because she wanted more for me than to be a fisherman.”
Once back in the U.S., Arriola’s parents remarried, but their struggle for a better life continued. His mother supported the family by cleaning houses, and his father, Dan Arriola, had a difficult time landing a good job.
“I did really well academically, and for some reason I didn’t get the kind of support I expected,” Arriola said.
Arriola, an AVID and AP student, had earned a 4.4 grade point average. “After school I would go directly to work,” he said.
Arriola helped his mother clean homes, he had a second job at Jamba Juice and at one point had a third job at Target.
“I wouldn’t get home until 11 o’ clock in the evening and that’s when I would start my homework,” Arriola said. “I just remember being so frustrated because I’d be up until 1 in the morning doing homework, then get up early to be at school. It was exhausting.”
Arriola had his heart set on going to UCLA since he was 6 years old, he said, but his high school counselor told him he would never get in and was pushing him to go to community college. Arriola, who attended West High School in Tracy, researched scholarships on his own.
It paid off. He received a number of scholarships, including a hefty one that paid for his undergraduate education.
“Until this day I remember the moment I got accepted (into UCLA),” Arriola said. He opened the letter at 11 p.m. and woke up everyone in the house to share the news.
“I printed the letter and the next day put it on (his counselor’s) desk,” Arriola recounted. “The look on his face was priceless.”
Arriola originally wanted to be an entertainment agent, but further into his college education he landed an internship that changed his course. He interned doing political fundraising and met many politicians during that time.
One summer, he interned for the U.S State Department, where he was assigned to serve as a junior diplomat in Portugal as one of about 100 students in the program. “I actually got to go back to the Azores, where I had grown up,” he said.
In that assignment, Arriola had managerial authority over funds to develop American businesses in Portugal that benefited both countries.
Those experiences led him to switch his major to political science.
Arriola graduated from UCLA in 2011 as the political science valedictorian.
But the job climate was not ideal. It was during a time when there were few opportunities in government.
Many of his friends were going to law school, so Arriola gave it a shot. He was accepted into the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, where he focused on constitutional and criminal law.
In his second year of law school, Arriola was accepted to an internship as a certified student lawyer for the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office. There, he prosecuted misdemeanor cases, preparing complaints and motions and even arguing in court.
He also worked for the American Civil Liberties Union on efforts to improve access to religious material for Muslim prison inmates, to improve conditions for pregnant women in jail and ensure access to education for Latinos.
Arriola excelled in his law education and in 2014 graduated from USC as student body president.
Since then, Arriola has continued to work hard on augmenting his experience. He didn’t want to stay in Southern California.
“My whole plan was always to come home,” Arriola said. So, he did.
Arriola did a post-bar clerkship back at the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.
When he received news in December than he had passed the state bar exam, he embarked on a job hunt.
His many applications yielded an associate position for the Law Office of Gus Barrera II, a personal injury and criminal law attorney in Stockton. Arriola eventually wanted to launch his own practice.
That time came sooner than expected, when an attorney who shared the same suite retired her practice for a commissioner position and left an empty office for the taking.
“(Barrera) said ‘Why don’t you just do it now?’” Arriola said. “Here I am now.”
Arriola feels a need to help other young people succeed.
“I always felt I wanted to come back, because I was so frustrated (as a high school student and college prospect),” Arriola said. “Nothing is going to change unless people come back to make a difference.”
Through the organization he founded, Arriola goes to high schools and speaks to students about college. He gives them tips and information about financial aid and finding scholarships.
“If you are low income, a lot of times there are fee waivers for college,” he said.
Arriola also helps students connect with professionals who can talk to the teens about career paths through a network of local professionals.
Arriola said he is expanding the network of volunteers.
“I just really try to encourage (students) to pursue an education, because when it comes down to it, education is the basis of everything,” Arriola said.