Ben CdeBaca admits it.
“I was a bad kid,” the Mullen senior recently said. He can recite his attitude from memory: “I just don’t care. I don’t care about you, what’s going on, everything that’s happening … you’re not me.”
The Denver native was spinning toward trouble. Potentially, lots of it. He needed leadership. Desperately. And direction. And opportunity. And he wasn’t getting any of it.
What he was getting wasn’t working. His parents were divorced. There were assorted, unannounced moves from dwelling to dwelling as well as the confusing allure of wanting to hang out with bad boys. Possibly joining a gang. Crime. And his father had a problem with prescription drugs.
“I did get close to those things,” CdeBaca said of brushing against the dark side. “But I had a coping mechanism. My dad told me he never wanted to see me in a gang or anything like that. I pulled myself back … I could have turned quickly.”
He didn’t turn back. He headed forward. And attending Mullen came via influence.
“My mom (Maria) went to (nearby John F. Kennedy) and always admired Mullen,” CdeBaca said. “She vowed to send (him and sister Dejaya) here. It was something big on my mom’s part. I got to a Lasallian school with prayer every day.”
“It was just so different,” he said, “from growing up not from around here to a drastic change … to go from fighting and being in a bad circumstance to an amazing future. It was the biggest and best thing you can ask for.” There have been struggles along the way. In his sophomore year, his father, Ben Sr., passed away. “He was my super hero,” CdeBaca said.
Determined to make his father proud, he joined the Air Force National Guard, and was sworn in on Oct. 3. He said he has drill once a month near Cheyenne, Wyo. His brother-in-law, Damien Quiroza, is in the Army National Guard. Damien and Dejaya, a sophomore at the University of Wyoming, will welcome Ben near campus once he graduates from Mullen. Damien and Dejaya understand what Mullen can do for students. They met at Mullen and both graduated from there in 2018. While working on handling both the (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) and ACT, Ben hopes to become a Cowboy and eventually have a career in the military and work with air-traffic controllers.
“I continue to be amazed by the way our faculty and staff talk about Ben,” Mullen principal Jeff Howard said. “They love him and are impressed by him, and for good reason. His story is remarkable and he is as well.”
Ben’s story may have ended differently if it weren’t for the financial help he received from generous donors to Mullen High School. The Mullen Fund, and its tuition assistance program, provides families a life-changing opportunity and access to a quality education.