Up to now, Jorge Luevano’s world has consisted mainly of East Los Angeles (where he lives and was raised by his single mother, Maria) and nearby Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Montebello, where he is a stellar senior with a 4.6 grade point average. Come August, that will all change. That’s when the 17-year-old will leave East L.A. to attend prestigious Oberlin College in Ohio on a “full-boat” QuestBridge College Match Scholarship. The philanthropic organization’s primary goal is to increase the percentage of talented low-income students going to America’s best universities — including Caltech, Stanford, Princeton, Notre Dame and Yale.In Jorge’s case, Oberlin, another partner college, together with a Pell grant and other sources of financial aid will cover the full cost of tuition along with room and board, plus books and school supplies, and travel expenses. And to help pay for personal expenses, he’ll do work-study. All together, the QuestBridge scholarship package comes to about $60,000 a year for four years.So why has the soft-spoken, unassuming teenager done so well academically when nearly half the students at the two local public high schools — Roosevelt and Garfield — fail to even graduate in four years, with many dropping out of school entirely?When asked about this on a recent Friday morning at Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High School, Jorge is at first silent. “Well,” he finally begins with a deep sigh, “it’s primarily because I am self-disciplined and I make school my priority. My family always encouraged me in my studies. And I saw my mother as an inspiration to improve just like she did. She’s smart but never got the chance to go beyond fourth grade in Mexico.“I don’t keep track of, like, how much I study. I do my homework and that helps me study. It probably takes me, like, an hour and a-half on a week night. The homework allows me to practice what I learned in school, and it stays in my mind. And when I take an exam, I do study the day before just to refresh my mind. But it’s all in there.”After another pause, he observes with a small smile, “So I guess it’s both nature and nurture.”Public school struggleBut Jorge only knows his father, who died when he was just 10 months old, from aging photos. His mother never remarried, and worked many hours cleaning other families’ homes for as long as he can remember. He also remembers struggling in a neighborhood public school from kindergarten to third grade to just learn English. “I was bullied because I didn’t speak it so well,” he says. “But the bullying got me to be better. Because I took it as a challenge, and I wanted to prove those people wrong what they were saying. That’s basically what sparked me to be an achiever, to succeed.”Still, the following year his mother, with a lot of financial assistance, enrolled him in the neighborhood parochial school, St. Alphonsus. By the sixth grade, he was at the top of his class.“It was definitely a different environment,” he recalls. “Catholic school was smaller. There were less students. And I think that the teachers really did care about their students. I felt that wasn’t the case in public school. I definitely got more personal attention in Catholic school.His watchful mother also made sure that Jorge knew how destructive joining one of the 30-plus gangs in East L.A. could be to an adolescent. And her life lesson took.“Again, it was self-discipline,” he says. “I just thought it [gang activity] was wasting your life. I mean, there’s no point in violence. And I’ve been fortunate enough to not have been approached even. Up to now I haven’t.”The tight-knit family’s Catholic faith has also been a factor. “My faith is important,” he points out. “It teaches me self-discipline and moral values. I’ve questioned my faith. I’ve questioned the existence of God when I was in junior high school. “But then I saw people struggle and they never lost hope in their struggles. And I always wondered, like, where do they obtain that hope from? It’s their faith. It helped my mother to never stop persevering and to raise me to be who I am now.”‘Totally new experience’Jorge Luevano has studied up a little on Oberlin College, too, especially its progressive history. He knows the private institution was founded in the early 1800s, and that it was the first American college to admit students regardless of their race and the nation’s first college to award bachelor degrees to women. He’s also well aware it’s one of the top rated U.S. liberal arts colleges.Moreover, the high school senior who has rarely been out of East L.A. and bordering Montebello, except for short trips to visit relatives in Mexico, knows going away to college in the Midwest will be no easy life transition.“Because everything is so different — the climate is different, the people are different,” he observes. “So it’s going to be this whole diversity, all new ethnic groups.”After awhile he continues: “It’s mixed feelings,” he explains with a sigh. “Mixed feelings. Well, leaving my mother, ’cause we have always been together. It’s always been just her and me.”Then there’s one final thoughtful silence from the senior, whose favorite subjects are chemistry and calculus. “And I’m also excited,” he says, “because it’ll be a totally new experience in college.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0301/eastlascholar/{/gallery}