Marine Veteran Guillermo Luna Overcomes Obstacles to Graduate from SJSU

by | Jun 5, 2024 | Featured, Leadership

Guillermo Luna (right) with his family at the Veterans Graduation Celebration in May. © 2024 SJSU, photo by Robert C. Bain, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Guillermo Luna, ’24 Computer Engineering, knows what it’s like to go through tough times. 

When he was 16, his dad passed away. Luna started to experience feelings of darkness and uncertainty. But then he made a choice.  

“There was a fork in my life at that time,” says Luna, who grew up in East Los Angeles. “I could take the path of least resistance or the courageous path, where I do something in my dad’s name.” 

After Luna’s father died, he and his family moved around a lot. Financial stability was hard to come by. And when Luna and his family thought things couldn’t get any worse, their home burned down. 

Despite all the difficulties, Luna knew he had to stay focused and move forward. He took a couple of classes at Fullerton College. 

At the time, his dream was to eventually study engineering. He had always been fascinated by computers. In sixth grade, he started taking computers apart and reassembling them — just for fun. And in the summer after finishing up eighth grade, he built his very first computer.  

As Luna started to plan his next steps, he realized that to get to a university, he would have to find a way to pay for it. 

But he could barely keep the lights on at home. How was he going to afford to attend a university? 

Joining the Marine Corps

Luna’s question was answered soon enough while he was attending a career fair at his community college. He approached a booth of military recruiters. They explained how the GI bill would pay for his dream of attending a university.

Then and there, Luna decided that he wanted to join the Marine Corps. 

“But the recruiters told me that I had to drop 60 to 70 pounds before they considered taking me,” says Luna. 

While he attended community college, he worked hard to lose weight. One year later, in July 2009, he left for bootcamp.

“Two weeks into bootcamp, I thought to myself: What did I do? What did I sign up for?” says Luna.  

Luna was not accustomed to the consistency of high intensity from morning to night. 

“Everything you do there is with this purpose. You move everywhere with a purpose, you eat with a purpose, you speak with a purpose,” shares Luna. 

After 13 grueling weeks, Luna completed bootcamp. He felt a deep sense of pride and knew that he had chosen the right path. 

He spent several years as a marine, experiencing many ups and downs along the way. He was deployed twice — once to Afghanistan and once on a ship around the world with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). He ended up serving as a marine from 2009 – 2015. 

“The biggest lesson I learned from the Marines is that complacency kills,” Luna says. “The only way through anything is full-force forward. You can’t half-ass anything. If you do, you end up tripping.” 

Forging a Path at San José State 

After finishing his time up in the Marines, Luna attended East Los Angeles College and San Diego City College. Then he transferred to San José State in 2019. 

As a Southern California native, Luna had never considered Northern California. But he knew he was meant to be in San José.

During his time at San José State, Luna has achieved a great deal. During the 2023-2024 school year, he served as president of the Veteran Student Organization, which he describes as a place for veterans to have a community inside and outside of school. 

“We plan social events where students can connect and relate to fellow veterans, create memories and explore college life together,” says Luna. “We also contribute to the city through volunteering.” 

In February 2023, Luna also started working at SJSU’s Veterans Resource Center (VRC). Located in the Student Union, the VRC serves as a place where veterans, reservists, guard members, active duty personnel and veteran dependents can get access to support. In the 2023 U.S. News and World Report rankings, San José State was selected as the #3 Best College for Veterans among public universities in the West

“I try to be really present at the VRC for my fellow veterans and anyone else I can be there for,” says Luna. 

Nick Molina, ’25 Kinesiology, is a veteran student who Luna supported in his transition to civilian life. They’ve become good friends since meeting last year. 

“Guillermo helped with the transition of joining the Veterans Resource Center. He was one of the few people I was able to relate to on a personal level,” says Molina. 

Maggie Morales, the director of the VRC, says Luna has served as a mentor to many students and has demonstrated strong leadership in his position as student assistant. 

“Knowing Guillermo is like the feeling of a great big hug. He makes the workplace fun, light, energetic…and he’s always putting the needs of those around him first,” says Morales. “I know I can count on him 100% to show up and be there for his colleagues as well as his fellow students.”  

Luna is grateful to Morales, as well as Victoria Sexton from SJSU Cares, for pulling him out of a challenging time a year and a half ago. 

In fall 2022, after feeling disengaged with his studies during the pandemic, he decided to leave SJSU and take on a full-time job in another state. But the job fell through, and he re-enrolled in SJSU days later. Since he didn’t have a place to stay, he ended up living in his car at the start of his 2023 spring semester. 

SJSU Cares gave him support during that time, and he was eventually able to secure temporary housing in the dorms. They also connected him to a local couple, Steve and Marisa Rapinchuk, who wanted to help. Luna moved in with them last year and has been there ever since. 

“Big shoutout to Steve and Marisa. They taught me the true meaning of altruism — to give unselfishly,” says Luna.

Despite the bumps in the road along the way, Luna recently graduated at the College of Engineering commencement ceremony in May. 

“There was a quote I heard from Usain Bolt. He said, ‘I trained 4 years to run 9 seconds.’ I felt the same way walking across the stage,” says Luna. “It’s about patience, persistence and long-term perspective.”

A couple months ago, Luna married his girlfriend of eight years, whom he met back in Southern California while he was volunteering to feed the homeless in church. He, his wife, and stepson, who is 16, will be leaving for Boulder, Colorado next month. There, Luna will start his new job as an engineer with Lockheed Martin.  

“Where I am in my life right now, I just want to create a better environment and future for the next generation,” says Luna. 

Learn more about the Veteran Resource Center