The sky may not be the limit for this Step Up For Students scholar

Jul 6 2023 • By Roger Mooney


MIAMI – Julian Vazquez was 6 months old when he flew for the first time, traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to London. He said he remembers some of the trip. Five seconds, maybe.

Impossible, said his parents, but nearly 18 years later, Julian is sticking to his story. He can trace his infatuation with planes and all things that fly, if not to that trip, then the many flights he’s since taken.

What is not in dispute is Julian’s fascination with space began in the wilds of Oregon when he was a young boy. During summer camping trips with his family members who live in the Pacific Northwest, Julian would stare at the night sky filled with planets and stars and the constellations they form.

On those summer nights far from his Miami home, Julian gazed at his future.

In April, Julian received the Super Senior award at the 2023 Rising Stars Awards event in Miami. The event is sponsored by Step Up For Students.

At first, he wanted to be an astronaut, but now Julian wants to be an engineer who builds rocket ships or planes. He wants to work at NASA or maybe Lockheed Martin.

“I want to work hands-on with what I love,” Julian said.

Julian will enter the University of Central Florida in August with plans to major in Aerospace Engineering after graduating in May with honors from Saint Brendan High School in Miami. He attended the private Catholic high school on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship made possible by donations to Step Up For Students, which manages the scholarship program.

“I've had a lot of opportunities in high school, a lot of memories, and I could never be more grateful,” Julian said. “The only reason why I was able to go there was because of the scholarship.”

Julian packed a lot into his four years at Saint Brendan.

He played soccer and helped the Sabers to the Class 4A state title as a junior. He was a member of the STEM Academy and the Environmental Science Club, a school ambassador and worked security at middle school events. He took honors and AP courses, was a member of the Italian Honor Society, and graduated with a weighted GPA of 5.0.

Julian graduated in May with a weighted GPA of 5.0.

He volunteered for a project where he and some classmates waded through the muck in waist-deep water to help clear a portion of the Everglades National Park of invasive plants. As a member of the NASA Planet Mars Challenge, he worked on a project to determine if red beets could grow on Mars. The result: Yes, but it will be difficult. They would need to grow in a greenhouse.

“It’s very essential because sending food to Mars is very expensive, and it's very heavy for the rockets,” Julian said. “So, you need food that you can pretty much regenerate and regenerate. It’s going to be very helpful for the future.”

There was a time when Julian dreamed of being one of those astronauts on a mission to Mars. But the time spent in space isn’t conducive to being a family man, which is something Julian wants to be someday.

So, he shifted his career objective to being an engineer and if not designing rockets that can get a manned mission to Mars, then designing more efficient planes for commercial or military use.

“I’ve always loved airplanes,” Julian said. “I collected them as a kid. And aerospace engineering, not only does it have to do with rockets and space, but it also has to do with airplanes.”

Arnulfo Vazquez, Julian’s dad, grew up in Woodburn, Oregon, which is why the family heads back there every summer for family vacations. Part of the trip includes a few days of camping in the mountains. Nestled between lakes and waterfalls, they were far enough from civilization that the night sky was free from the light pollution caused by cities. That enabled them to see every star and planet after dark.

“It was incredible,” Arnulfo said. “It was completely dark, and you could see the sky like you were in space.”

Julian was 6 when he began to learn the names of the planets and the stars. He fell in love with the Star Wars movies and later “Ad Astra,” a 2019 movie about space travel.

As a junior, Julian helped Saint Brendan's boys varsity soccer tam win the state title.

“Every time we’d go camping, we’d always look at the stars and it just fascinated me, and I started looking more into that,” Julian said. “The planets, the solar system, the galaxy. I've always been like a sci fi type of person and that started growing my interest.”

Arnulfo, an accountant, and his wife Mariely, who owns a drycleaning business, wanted Julian and his two brothers to attend Saint Brendan. Valentine will be a senior during the 2023-24 school year, while Fabian will be a freshman.

The Vazquezes want their children to receive a faith-based education in a small classroom setting where they can receive more one-on-one support from the teachers.

“Financially, if it wasn’t for the scholarship, we wouldn’t be able to afford Saint Brendan,” Arnulfo said.

Julian certainly made the best of his opportunity. He was challenged academically and athletically. He went from someone fascinated with air and space to someone who plans on making that his career.

“If I had a conversation with my old self, with 13-year-old me as a freshman, I’d tell him, ‘You wouldn’t believe what I’ve done here,’” Julian said. “I never thought I’d accomplish the things I accomplished.

“When you put yourself out there and do the things you love, and the things that you're passionate about, and you put some effort, some determination into it, you can accomplish many things.”

Who knows? Maybe you can touch the stars.

Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at [email protected].

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Roger Mooney