Michael Guirguis graduated from Lakewood High School five years ago, but he is still a familiar face on campus. The tenacious UCLA senior returns several times a year to tell hundreds of students about his own high school and college experiences, hoping to give them valuable information and a word of encouragement that they can succeed.
His last time back, just a few weeks ago, he shared his latest triumph--acceptance this fall to Harvard University Medical School.
"It was not a surprise," said his high school psychology teacher Rich De Coudres, who invites Guirguis back frequently to Lakewood for classroom college pep talks with his students. "He is a very well rounded person--intellectually, physically, emotionally, spiritually, in every way--just a great person.
"He tackles obstacles head on," said De Coudres. "When he does his homework, he always does the toughest problems and assignments first. He's a real go-getter."
But Guirguis, the son of Egyptian immigrants, credits Lakewood High School for its high level of preparation of most students.
"I think 65 to 70 percent of the people at Lakewood High School could do well at a school like UCLA," said Guirguis, a psychobiology major. "It's a matter of getting there and rising to the occasion of doing your best work once you're there."
He shares with students the importance of not putting any barriers in their own way--not when it comes to their own academic ability nor the need for money to attend college.
His most important tip for those who want to attend college? Apply for every scholarship for which a student qualifies.
"When I went to UCLA, I took $8,000 in community scholarships with me," said Guirguis. "Money doesn't have to be a problem. It's there for you if you look for it."
His own approach involved setting up a database of information that most scholarship applications called for--"A lot of the questions are the same," he said--and then spending the time to fill them out completely.
"It's crazy, people complaining they don't have money for college," said Guirguis. "They'll work at a job that pays them $5 an hour, yet they won't spend an hour or two working on something that might give them $1,000 for school."
Guirguis's road from Lakewood High School to Harvard Medical School probably took its most clear turn while he was working out in anticipation of playing football during his high school sophomore year. He ruptured two disks in his back and spent most of his free time that year in doctors' and physical therapists' offices.
"That's where I started thinking that I might enjoy being a doctor," said Guirguis.
Immediately after graduation from Lakewood High School, Guirguis spent the summer at UCLA Harbor General Medical Center, assisting in pediatric cardiology research with 10 other outstanding area high school students.
That early hospital lab experience led to several other research and clinical opportunities while at UCLA. As a student at UCLA, he spent several quarters assisting with learning and memory research in a psychobiology lab.
As a junior at UCLA, he served as director of a student-administered public health project to provide blood pressure screenings and referrals to African-American residents of south central Los Angeles.
For three years, the future pediatrician has spent Sunday mornings or afternoons at the Starlight Room at the UCLA Medical Center, interacting with young patients to help them cope with the strain of long-term hospitalization.
A well rounded individual, he works summers as a bouncer at a popular dance club in Irvine.
While putting in the extra hours and energy to succeed at UCLA, he has always made time to keep in touch with Lakewood High School, going on fishing trips with the Lakewood High School Piscatorial Society and speaking to students in De Coudres's classes.
"Mr. D. is one of the best teachers I ever had," said Guirguis.