The sun was high and the suit was hot. Raul Ruiz mopped his brow with a handkerchief as he walked the sun-baked sidewalks of Coachella, California, his hometown. He had a briefcase in his hand with a stack of carefully typed contracts inside.

In the scorching summer of 1990, the teenager in the itchy blue suit went from business to business with a proposition: Donate toward his college education, and he would return to the community as a physician. He made the pledge in writing, and he stapled the donor’s card to each signed contract.

These were long odds for the son of farm workers in a poor and dusty community down the highway from the groomed golf courses of Palm Springs. Yet Ruiz made good on that promise. Not only did he return to Coachella to practice emergency medicine, but he came back with three graduate degrees from Harvard, including a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School in 2001.

 

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