“I Know He Lives on Through Me”: First-Gen Student’s Success Honors His Father’s Memory

| May 10, 2023

For senior Christopher Merino Brito, who joins Microsoft next fall, graduating with a degree in computer science means honoring his father’s memory

Christopher Merino Brito was born and raised in South Los Angeles, just four miles from USC. Photo/Gustavo Gonzalez.

Christopher Merino Brito was born and raised in South Los Angeles, just four miles from USC. Photo/Gustavo Gonzalez.

In December 2021, Christopher Merino Brito was on a high. He had just been admitted to USC Viterbi’s computer science program and was preparing to start his first internship at Microsoft when his father died suddenly of a heart attack. It turned Brito’s world upside down.

“It didn’t help that it was during COVID either; it was very isolating,” said Brito. “I think that was one of the hardest times, just focusing on all my courses and trying to process what had happened.”

Brito’s dad Bernardo grew up the youngest son of eight children in Santa María Zacatepec, a small village in Oaxaca, Mexico. His own father had died in a tragic horse accident when he was an infant, leaving his single mom raised him and his siblings. She worked long hours in the fields to provide for the large family, leading Brito’s father and his brothers to find work at a young age.

Despite leaving school at age 13, his dad eventually made it to the U.S. and started a family with Brito’s mother, Veronica, who he had met in Mexico. Settling down in Los Angeles, he supported Brito, his mom and his brother by working various jobs, including as an auto shop custodian.

“This was the root of his aspirations for my brother and me in school since he knew education was the key to being able to elevate ourselves from poverty,” said Brito, whose brother, Cristian, earned a degree in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“He knew education was the key to being able to elevate ourselves from poverty.” Christopher Merino Brito.

“He was there for parent conference meetings, tried to get us into honors and Magnet programs, and encouraged us to strive to be straight-A students.”

After his passing, Brito had to make a choice: take a leave of absence or continue school. It was hard to push through the grief, but his education and future as an engineer were so important to his father. So, he dug deep into his schoolwork and hung on tight to his dad’s aspirations for him.

“My dad was such an advocate for education,” said Brito. “I felt that the best way to honor him was to continue with school.”

Two years after this tragedy, when he walks across the stage on May 12th to receive his BS in computer engineering and computer science, Brito will become his family’s first engineer and the first to earn a degree in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Christopher Merino Brito, aged around 13, with his father Bernardo ready for his brother’s high school graduation.

He already has a job offer as a software engineer with Microsoft next fall, where he interned twice during his time at USC with Explore Microsoft, a 12-week summer internship program. In the summer of 2022, for his second internship, the company flew him to its headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

“That was actually really surreal for me because I had never been on a plane before,” said Brito. “Being able to talk with experienced engineers who have been doing this for 10-plus years really motivated me to keep trying to learn and keep trying to grow as a developer.”

At the end of the internship, the recruiter called a meeting with him and he heard the magic words: “We really enjoyed your time here and we want to extend a full-time offer.”

Making dad proud

Brito was born and raised in South Los Angeles, just four miles from USC. During high school, he attended USC’s Upward Bound Math-Science, a program that serves students identified as academic achievers.

He knew he wanted to work with computers and dreamed of one day joining the Trojan Family. “Being able to call myself a Viterbi alumnus was something I wanted to achieve, especially since I would be the first engineer in my family,” said Brito.

But it didn’t come easy—falling just short of the admission requirements for USC’s engineering programs, Brito first joined the university as a psychology major, but his heart was still with computer science. “When I was graduating high school, I set my mind to working with computers and I wanted to do something that I’m passionate about.”

So, he embarked on a process called pre-engineering, taking computer science courses in addition to his full psychology course load for 18 months. In November 2021, just a few weeks before his father’s death, he finally won admission to the Viterbi School of Engineering.

“That was bittersweet,” said Brito. “My dad knew I got into Viterbi and that was a proud moment for us.”

On commencement day, Brito will be joined by his mom, brother and uncle. He’s taking the summer to spend time with his family before moving to Seattle, WA in August, his first time living away from home.

“I know it’s hard for my mom to see me go, but she also understands that it’s time for me to see the world out there, and she’s very supportive,” said Brito.

As he steps into the next chapter of his life, his father’s legacy is never far from his heart.

“I love my dad and will forever miss him, but I know he lives on through me,” said Brito. “He taught me to be kind to others and to be a hardworking individual, which I try to practice in my life.”

Published on May 10th, 2023

Last updated on May 16th, 2024

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