'There’s always hope': Eladio Bobadilla went from almost failing out of high school to earning a Duke Ph.D.

At the age of 18, Eladio Bobadilla was on the verge of failing out of high school. In March, 15 years later, he defended his Ph.D. dissertation at Duke. 

In a recent tweet that accumulated more than 14,000 likes, Bobadilla described how his parents, who didn't receive an "elementary education," dreamed he would one day become an academic and how he hoped to honor his parents and other immigrants alike through his career. 

Bobadilla now has a Ph.D. in history and studies the history of class, race, and social movements in the United States.

Born in a rural village in Mexico, Bobadilla immigrated to the United States at the age of 11. Undocumented until he was 19 years old, his immigration status played a major role in shaping his adolescence and career goals. 

As a high schooler, Bobadilla began to understand what it meant to be undocumented in the United States. He explained that he felt as though college was an unattainable goal and that he “sort of just gave up” on education. But because he was to be the first in his family to graduate high school, Bobadilla chose to stick with it, despite nearly not graduating. 

Now, after serving in the military for four years and completing his undergraduate and graduate studies, Bobadilla wants to show others like him what they can be capable of.

“I wanted to show other kids who may be in the position that I was in that there’s always hope, and that you have to fight for hope. You have to fight to be treated as equal and be given the opportunities that other people just have," he said. "And part of me just wanted to brag for my parents who always wanted something better for me, who were lifelong farmworkers, who never got an education.” 

Although he aspired to be an academic and historian early on in life, he said he imagined this career path to be unattainable because of his immigration status. So he joined the military, Bobadilla said, using that as a gateway to college. He was honorably discharged from the armed forces in 2009 and enrolled in Weber State University. 

Earning the doctoral degree from Duke, he said, has been years of intensive work. 

"It has been six years of hard work, six years of dedication to a subject and a topic, and to research and writing, but also six years of tremendous support from people all over," he said.

Bobadilla said he has met amazing people at Duke who have supported him and made it possible to achieve his degree. Bobadilla now studies immigration history, specifically focusing on the history of the immigrants’ rights movement since the 1950s. 

“It seems to me that we’re living in a moment of cruelty, but as a historian, it doesn’t surprise me. Migration policy has a history of being cruel," he said. "I think we’re seeing, in some ways, the culmination of decades of anti-immigrant sentiment. It’s been difficult for me to write about this without thinking about the present moment, without thinking about my own identity, my parents’ identity. It’s a difficult moment to ponder and comprehend, but it has a history, a dark history.”

Bobadilla will next move on to University of Kentucky, where he will be an assistant professor of U.S. history. Nevertheless, Bobadilla assured that he will always be a Duke basketball fan at heart. 

When asked what it felt like to finally present his years of hard work, Bobadilla had one word to say.



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