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Pasadena Honors Another Hero

Learning Works mentor saluted with a private (and very public) graduation parade

Published on Friday, May 15, 2020 | 5:06 pm

Raul Zarate knows a little bit about bad luck, but he also knows a lot about good luck.

Growing up in an at-risk gang environment, Zarate eventually succumbed to the temptations of The Life, and ended up incarcerated as a minor for 9 years of a 16-year prison sentence.

His sentence was eventually commuted by Governor Jerry Brown, and he entered Cal State LA to major in sociology. For the last three years, he has worked at Pasadena’s LearningWorks, mentoring at-risk youth like himself.

Zarate is graduating from Cal State LA this semester with a 4.0 GPA, and like every graduating student in America, he won’t see a graduation ceremony. He also missed his middle school and high school graduations.

But his friends at Learning Works weren’t about to let the occasion go by without a celebration. Summoned to a noon meeting Friday afternoon, he noticed a noisy commotion outside his office window.

“I saw police cars, and lots of cars, and went outside to check it out,” he told Pasadena Now. It was, of course, his own private parade and graduation ceremony.

As media trucks lined Walnut Street, a parade of decorated cars drove by to honor Zarate, honking their horns and waving and shouting.

“I feel so blessed,” said Zarate. “I’ve never had a surprise like this in my life, and it just meant so much to me. I’ve had some bad luck, and this was just so great.”

Representatives from a number of local community agencies and non-profits took part in the noisy festive parade, which was led by Zarate’s parents.

Who needs a crowded auditorium when your personal graduation ceremony is just rolling down the street in front of work?

Learning Works Charter School, 90 N. Daisy Avenue, Pasadena, (626) 564-8762 or visit

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