Recently, the Ojai Valley lost David Mason, a beloved member of the community. At his celebration of life at the Libbey Bowl, Omar Barraza CdeP 1990 (pictured center, front row in the photo at right) told the story of how Mason, then just a family acquaintance, helped pay for his Thacher education with no expectation of thanks or returns. As we focus on expanding the School’s own financial aid program, his story reminds us of tuition aid’s ability to transform lives—and how it paves the way for graduates who then turn around and give back to their communities in ways big and small.
Before it was Omar Barraza CdeP 1990’s dream to attend The Thacher School, it was his mother’s dream that he would. For as long as he could remember, she’d been encouraging him to think big and work toward obtaining a great education, no matter the obstacles in front of him. She believed that Thacher could be an important part of that equation.
Barraza’s grandparents had come to the Ojai Valley looking for work picking oranges in the fields. They stayed, raising Barraza’s father and his ten siblings here. And then Barraza, too, was born and raised here. Throughout his childhood, Barraza’s mother and father made sure to surround him and his sister with books and education. They regularly read to their children and demanded that they read on their own, too. And Barraza’s mother was determined that he would attend Thacher.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, but that never stopped my mother,” said Barraza. “She had a plan and that plan was that I was going to The Thacher School come hell or high water. It really started out as her dream more than mine. But over the years, she convinced me that this was my future, the dream that I would aspire to. That no matter what was happening, I needed to study and be a good boy and do my homework.”
When it came time to interview, Barraza started to have doubts. He had the smarts, the education, and the work ethic needed to gain admittance. Still—“I don’t think that we can make this happen,” he thought to himself as he looked around the campus, the cost of tuition weighing heavy on his mind.
Even after Barraza was admitted, others seemed to share his doubts. They laughed at his mother, wondering where she thought she was going to get the kind of money needed to send her son to Thacher.
“I knew one thing about my mother, though, and that was that she would stop at nothing to get me and my sister what we needed to thrive,” said Barraza.
To this day, Barraza doesn’t understand exactly what happened next. But his mother talked to a local acquaintance of the family, David Mason, and ultimately came away with an amazing offer. Mason agreed to pay for Barraza’s Thacher education.
“I will go to my grave not knowing how or why, but she worked on David Mason, and she sold this dream to him,” said Barraza. “Over the years I’ve wondered, why, why did he do this? I would ask him and he wouldn’t give me an answer. It occurs to me now that he did this out of charity, out of kindness, out of generosity, out of love. David had no obligation to help me at all. He asked nothing of me. He didn’t sit me down and say “Kid, you better not mess this up.” Not once did he admonish me, threaten me, pressure me. He just gave me my dream. He gave me this incredible opportunity out of the kindness of his heart.”
Today, Omar Barraza is an attorney living in Seattle, Washington, with a special focus on immigration law.
“It is my duty and my luxury, my pleasure, my new dream to help other people,” Barraza says of his work. “I’m extremely blessed to have a good standard of living and to be able to help vulnerable people achieve their dreams and to obtain residency in the United States.”
When David Mason recently passed away, Omar Barraza was one of the individuals who spoke at the celebration of his life at Libbey Bowl. He told this story, and, in his remarks, mentioned that Mason, through his profound generosity, had not only changed Barraza’s life; he was now also changing the course of the lives of the people that Barraza helps and supports through his work every day.
Barraza concluded: “Thank you, David. Thank you for teaching me that giving unconditional love pays dividends across generations.”Learn more about Thacher’s plans to expand financial aid.