California Cardinals

Among the University’s undergraduate population, 60 students hail from the Golden State. In this summer series of profiles, we shine the spotlight on five students from the L.A. area to find what brought them nearly 3,000 miles from home, and how they are adapting to life on the East Coast.


When he headed outside during a light snowfall his first winter at Catholic University, Samuel Lopez thought he was seeing ash. “We are used to wildfires in California, and the falling ash that comes with it,” he says. “It took me a minute to realize I was looking at falling snow. That was an incredible first.”

Lopez is the youngest in his close-knit Mexican-American family and the first in his extended family to attend college on the East Coast. “My mom wanted me to go to a top-notch Catholic university, and I wanted to expand my horizons.”

Growing up, Lopez was used to having his family around. Both his parents worked at the high school he attended with his brother and sister — his dad as the assistant principal, and his mom as the director for women’s sports.

“My older brother was known there as ‘Little Lopez’ and I was ‘Little Little Lopez.’ I was used to that kind of familiarity,” Lopez says. After coming to Catholic, “Being at a place where no one knew me was jarring, yet liberating at the same time.”

Lopez quickly found his “family” on campus by sharing his salsa moves as a member of Pasión de Sol, the Latin American dance team of the Student Organization of Latinos (CUA SOL). He got involved in Campus Ministry, and participated in a spring break mission trip to Jamaica. He also sang with Take Note, a student a capella group. Lopez, who is now the president of CUA SOL, says he found second homes on campus both at the Center for Cultural Engagement and within the Department of English, where he describes the faculty as “completely welcoming and friendly, yet constantly challenging you as a scholar.”

The one thing he can’t stop missing is “real” Mexican food: “It’s so much fresher and well-seasoned at home.” He also misses the “serenity and accessibility” of the ocean.

“Sometimes when I think about the differences between the East and West Coasts, I see colors — the blue of the Pacific Ocean and the gold and brown of the mountains,” Lopez says. “When I moved here I was struck by the color green in the grass and the trees. There’s nothing like that in L.A.”