Back at the end of 2019, Isaiah Garcia-Plazola was a senior at Helen Hunt Jackson’s independent study program. At the time, 17-year-old Garcia-Plazola shared the story of his tough upbringing and his decision to change his life for the better.

Isaiah Garcia-Plazola graduated high school and ships off to join the U.S. Navy next month.

Garcia-Plazola was asked to speak at the Hemet Unified School District’s State of the District on Oct. 10, 2019. He shared his inspirational story of changing his life at the young age of 15. Garcia-Plazola grappled with drugs and alcohol, brutality, run-ins with the law and gang life. Eventually, he realized he had no direction in life except down.

Garcia-Plazola explained how his grandmother stepped up to help her grandson. She asked him about his life’s purpose.

“I didn’t have any goals in life,” Garcia-Plazola admitted. “I was just doing what I was doing. That’s where I started on my journey to find what my purpose was in life.”

I caught up with Garcia-Plazola on the phone last week to see how his final year in high school came to a close and where he is now.

Last year, Garcia-Plazola spoke to the Town Crier of wanting to become a correctional officer or an emergency medical technician (EMT). After some thought, Garcia-Plazola changed his mind.

“I kind of changed paths because I didn’t know what to do,” Garcia-Plazola said. “I did some research on EMTs and I wanted to do something greater and bigger. I thought entering into the military would be a way to step out of my comfort zone and boost my confidence.”

Garcia-Plazola enlisted in the U.S. Navy in May and ships out to boot camp on Sept. 10. He’ll start his journey in Great Lakes, Illinois. Boot camp — normally eight weeks — has been extended by two weeks due to COVID-19. He will be quarantined upon arrival for two weeks before training begins.

Garcia-Plazola decided to choose a path that has always interested him, welding. He believes it will be a useful skill when he transitions back into civilian life.

“I chose a career that would benefit me in the outside world,” Garcia-Plazola said. “I chose to do welding. Working with metal, plumbing and pipes. I like to learn. I’m a visual learner. Welding is something I’ve been intrigued with. I believe it’ll be a good trade to have.”

As for high school, Garcia-Plazola earned his diploma, and just like any other school during the pandemic, he was able to walk the stage while his family took photos from their vehicles.

“At first, I was nervous being out of high school because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Garcia-Plazola said. “During high school, I spent so much of my life having to grow up quicker than I wanted to. The closer I got to graduating, I wanted to stay a kid.

“I feel there’s so much I missed out on in my childhood, but I’ve got the plan I have now and hope everything works out,” he added.

For such a young man, Garcia-Plazola has kept a good head on his shoulders and continues to keep a positive outlook on his future. He shared his experience and advice for those who might be struggling.

“Sometimes we’re young and we make mistakes, but it’s not for us to dwell on,” Garcia-Plazola explained. “We just have to accept it and forgive ourselves. I try to have an optimistic outlook on life. Making mistakes is what makes us human.”

In the long-term, Garcia-Plazola hopes to live in different parts of the country.

“I would like to go live in Florida, Hawaii or stay in San Diego, California,” he said. “I get a little bit nervous because my family is here, but I’m prepared to do whatever the Navy tells me to do.”