Jesse Ruiz '95 Delivers University of Illinois Commencement Address

When Jesse Ruiz, an attorney who sits on Chicago Public Schools' board and previously chaired the Illinois State Board of Education, gave a commencement address to economics students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign last month, he shared a story of “epic failure.” 

He flunked out of his first year of college. 

The corporate and securities partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP grew up on Chicago's South Side, was an honor student at Marist High School and dreamed of becoming an electrical engineer. But he struggled during his first year at UIUC.A son of Mexican immigrants—his father was a “bracero,” or migrant farm worker—he told graduates he was “humbled and ashamed” by the experience. 

“I'm not incredibly proud of that story, but I tell it because it's about success and failure and how to bounce back in life,” Mr. Ruiz, 49, says in an interview at his Loop office. “We're all going to stumble. But it doesn't have to define you for the rest of your life.”