“I did not know it back then, but during those eight years that I lived without my family, I had my oxygen mask on and I focused on survival. And during those same eight years, I had to watch helplessly the pain and hurt that it caused my family to be apart.”
– Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez
At the age of 24, Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez already has an impressive resume. She graduated from Flowing Wells High School as valedictorian, Arizona Academic Scholar and Gold Diploma Recipient in 2014 and went on to attend the prestigious University of Pennsylvania earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 2018. During college, Elizabeth also participated in supplementary educational programs at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Queen Mary University of London and Harvard Business School. She also represented the U.S. Department of State as a Gilman International Scholar while living abroad in the UK for six months. Today, she works in New York as a Corporate & Investment Banking Analyst on the Corporate Access team at Wells Fargo Securities.
Elizabeth’s successes did not come easy. At the age of 15, her parents had legal complications that forced them to return to Mexico. During this time, Elizabeth’s younger brother, Fernando, was forced to leave his life in the U.S. behind to meet his parents south of the border. Elizabeth, however, stayed in Tucson and continued high school.
“I spent the next few years learning how to adapt quickly and prudently in different environments, moving a total of four different times, thanks to the generosity of neighbors, school administrators and the strangers who took me in,” she recalls.
Elizabeth eventually found out about Youth On Their Own from her school counselor who introduced her to the program and helped her navigate many of the resources that were available to youth experiencing homelessness. She explains,
“YOTO helped me with its monthly stipend, being one of my only sources of income, during high school. With that, I was able to live a relatively normal life with the clothes and supplies needed by any high school student. Through the Mini Mall, I was able to get a constant supply of my favorite snacks and food without having to dip into my limited funds. Thanks to YOTO, I was also able to get regular check-ups with Dr. Eyler. I wouldn’t have had access to healthcare otherwise.”
Despite the many obstacles she faced being away from her family while in school, Elizabeth notes, “Looking back, I loved my high school experience… I was able to take classes with supportive teachers while continuously taking advantage of extra-curriculars. There, I was involved in sports like tennis, soccer, and golf – as well as multiple clubs.”
She also credits YOTO for helping her feel like a regular student: “It helped me focus on school rather than on survival. YOTO was essential for me to do what needed to be done – which was pursue my education.”
And she did just that. Elizabeth received acceptances from three Ivy League colleges and chose the University of Pennsylvania because it felt like a community she could become a part of. She credits UPenn with teaching her that there was more to school than just academics: “I realized that, in such a diverse and different place, I could learn just as much from people as well. There, my friends and my professors became my new family, which motivated me to keep going no matter how hard it got.” One lesson that really resonated with Elizabeth came from Dr. DiIulio, a political science professor who told her to take at least one lesson from every class and let that be a bead of knowledge she could thread together and keep with her. Elizabeth was able to see these beads of knowledge everywhere throughout her college experience, both in the lecture hall and all over campus; in conversations with her friends as well as through the support she received from La Casa Latina at The Center for Hispanic Excellence.
Now, as an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, Elizabeth works on a team that focuses on connecting C-Suite Executives and Investor Relation’s teams for public companies with the investors that buy and sell shares of their company. Doing this allows investors to make better investment decisions. According to Elizabeth, “My favorite part about my role is the autonomy that I have in executing an event with some of the biggest leaders in business. It is a privilege to have access to great minds both in the bank and in the world of business at such a young age.”
In a recent TED@WellsFargo Talk, Elizabeth candidly opens up about her immigrant experience and the dual guilt she felt pursuing her high school and college education while knowing her family was in Mexico without the prospect of returning to America as well as seeing other immigrants struggle and feeling as though she was not doing enough to help them. She has since come to terms with this, drawing parallels from flight attendant instructions to secure your own oxygen mask first before helping others. Elizabeth reflects,
“I did not know it back then, but during those eight years that I lived without my family, I had my oxygen mask on and I focused on survival. And during those same eight years, I had to watch helplessly the pain and hurt that it caused my family to be apart. What airlines don’t tell you is that putting your oxygen mask on first while seeing those around you struggle – it takes a lot of courage. But being able to have that self-control is sometimes the only way that we are able to help those around us.”
Once she graduated college in 2018, Elizabeth flew then 15-year-old Fernando to the U.S. to live with her so that he too could pursue his education. Now with a career that has helped her and her family find financial stability, Elizabeth acknowledges that today she knows she is living something close to what her parents saw as their American dream. At the moment, Fernando is her top priority and she is providing him with all of her resources to see him flourish and feel supported. In the future, however, she hopes to eventually have the capital and money to invest in institutions like YOTO, which created a space for her to grow and thrive. She notes, “Because I am in this position of privilege, I also have the responsibility to make sure that my community finds spaces where they can find guidance, access and support.”
It is Elizabeth’s desire to use her privilege, her education, and her experience to do good that drives her forward:
“I have a craving to create something or to contribute in some way, I am very entrepreneurial, and I’d love to have the opportunity to be in a place where I can be nimble and adaptive – a place where my decisions can truly have an impact.”
As a YOTO alumna, we are incredibly proud of Elizabeth for pushing past all of the obstacles she faced while pursuing her education, both high school and college. Her tenacity has already helped her to find financial stability through her career after years of uncertainty. This intelligent, motivated, and compassionate young woman is already making a difference in the lives of those around her, especially her bother. Given time, we know she will continue to inspire and help other young people to pursue their education and find success in their lives. Wishing you every success in the world, Elizabeth!
 Dr. Thomas Eyler was a founding board member of Youth On Their Own and a family physician.