Christian Sanchez’s life is nothing if not busy. A typical day for the father of five involves getting his kids ready for school, juggling their schedules, including doctor’s appointments and extracurricular activities, planning dinner, and helping run a bustling household.

Amid all of this, he works on his Stanford degree.

“A lot of people ask how I do it,” he said. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, man. It’s a day-by-day kind of thing.’”

For the past three years, Sanchez and his wife, Anna, have been raising their family on campus while they complete their bachelor’s degrees – he at Stanford and she at the University of California, Berkeley. Between school, careers, commuting (for her), and family obligations, it can be a hectic life, but Sanchez is proving that he’s built for the challenge.

In June, he will graduate from Stanford, with no intention of slowing down; he was recently accepted to graduate school and has big plans for his career. Getting to this point has been a long and circuitous journey for Sanchez, who was once a high school dropout struggling personally, financially, and facing a bleak future. But immersing himself in an academic environment has flipped his life upside down.

“My experience at Stanford has been a blessing,” he said. “It’s been a complete 180 from life as I experienced it before.”

Breaking point

Sanchez grew up in San Diego, where his home life was unstable due to frequent moves, familial strife, financial challenges, and parents who were often away working multiple jobs. He was not studious and attended three high schools before a lack of direction and motivation caught up to him.

“High school is where everything kind of fell apart and I dropped out,” said Sanchez, who spent the next several years wandering through life aimlessly.

“I was kind of floating around, doing a whole bunch of nothing, working random jobs, drinking, doing drugs, and a lot of things I shouldn’t have been doing,” he said, adding that 2014 was a particularly low point for him due to two drug overdoses and a traumatic car accident that nearly ended his life.

Figuring out a career plan wasn’t easy. Sanchez briefly attended culinary school and even considered becoming a paralegal, but neither path panned out. He and Anna later opened a Mexican restaurant that was popular, but they struggled to run the business.

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Sanchez conceded. They were forced to close the business, which he said was one of the hardest things he’d ever done. “I really love cooking, and the restaurant was one of my greatest accomplishments, so losing it was a real low blow to my confidence.”

With little money, no formal training or education, few job prospects, children to support, including one with autism, and living in public housing, Sanchez reached a breaking point.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m tired of living like this. This is terrible,’” he recalled.

Bridge to Stanford

Sanchez returned to school and completed his high school degree. He enrolled at a community college where he joined a program called Puente (“bridge” in Spanish), which supports underrepresented students pursuing college. He excelled academically, became student body president, ended his drug use, and in December 2020, earned a degree in English.

“That was the first time I can recall my mom ever saying she was proud of me,” Sanchez said.

Since joining Stanford in 2021, life on the Farm has been a whirlwind experience for him. He was elected vice president of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) in his first year and is majoring in English. He’s in an undergraduate honors program and pursuing a minor in education at the Graduate School of Education, where he helped conduct research on student experiences with the college transfer credit evaluation process. He also found a home at the First Generation and/or Low-Income Student Success Center, or FLISCC, where he worked as a transfer coordinator. He is also the program coordinator for THRIVE, a pre-orientation program for first-gen/low-income students.

Family man

Outside of the classroom, Sanchez and his wife live in a large campus apartment where they raise four of their five kids, ages 14, 12, 10, and 8. Their oldest daughter has left the nest. He said managing everyone’s daily needs and schedules is like “putting the pieces of a puzzle together,” but he’s learned to navigate the process.

Growing up at Stanford has changed his kids, who now regularly talk about school, the colleges they want to attend, and the career paths they’d like to pursue. “The little one wants to be a doctor,” Sanchez said, beaming.

“Had we not come here, I don’t know if they would be who they are now, because before this, we never had conversations about school or college,” he said.

It’s a marked shift from Sanchez’s own upbringing, which he said was not a happy one. But the hard work he’s put into his own life and education has translated to being a better parent and raising kids with a sense of purpose that he didn’t have at their age.

“There’s no handbook to parenting, but I do my best to make them happy individuals,” he said.

Looking ahead

Acknowledging the role that school has played in his life, Sanchez said he wants a career in higher education. He was recently accepted to two graduate programs, but is deferring enrollment a year while his wife finishes her degree. He hopes to become a community college professor and, one day, president of a community college system.

He said he’s grateful to be at Stanford and for the support of many staff and administrators, particularly former Provost Persis Drell, former Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole and her team, as well as Samuel Santos, associate vice provost for inclusion, community, and integrative learning.

“They’ve been very supportive of my journey academically and professionally,” he said. “I don’t think I would’ve had the same college experience somewhere else.”