Conducting My Life: Carlos Ramirez

As told to Caitlin Dawson | May 3, 2024

Graduating computer science senior Carlos Ramirez on the healing power of music, long-awaited family reunions and landing his dream job.

Transfer student Carlos Ramirez will join Microsoft after graduation. Photo/Carlos Ramirez.

Transfer student Carlos Ramirez will join Microsoft after graduation. Photo/Carlos Ramirez.

This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Carlos Ramirez, (B.S. Computer Science ’24), a choir singer and soon-to-be Microsoft software engineer. 

Music has always been an outlet and a safe space for me. I’ve been in choir ever since first grade. My family didn’t have much money to drop on a rental instrument, but choir had a low barrier to entry. I already had the instrument—it was part of my body!

I have always really liked rhythmic songs. Songs with a clave rhythm, which you find in a lot of Afro-Cuban music like salsa, mambo, Latin jazz. It’s really catchy. I also really like warm, rich sounds that are common in choral music.

Conducting at the USC Thornton School of Music showcase.

Conducting at the USC Thornton School of Music showcase.

I was born and raised in Chicago.

Both my parents are immigrants—my dad is from Mexico, and my mom is from Colombia.

My mom and dad met at a plastics factory, where he was a hydraulics engineer and she was a packer. It’s a sweet story. But my childhood was pretty tough. Long story very, very short, my dad was in prison during my sophomore and junior year of high school.

I only saw him once during that time. The prison was six hours south of where we lived, and we didn’t have a car at the time. We carpooled with other people going to see their loved ones in prison, too.

I remember noticing that the inmates didn’t wear orange jumpsuits like they do in movies. It’s just gray everything.

Gray sweatpants. Gray walls. Even the sky was gray.

I was 16.

I didn’t tell anyone in school. I didn’t know how to handle it and fell into a pretty bad depression.

I’d had good grades in freshman year, but once it all started hitting, I got C’s and D’s.

Eventually, I got the help I needed.

I ended up moving into a private residential home for kids. It was a short walk from my school and they had individual and family therapy. I lived with other people who had also gone through pretty bad stuff. We all became really close.

When I moved, my self-esteem started improving, my depression started lifting, things started really looking up. I went to community college for a year to try and restart and get my feet off the ground.

Then COVID hit and I moved back home with my parents. Thankfully, the residential home still offered services like virtual therapy, which was really helpful in terms of my relationship with my dad.

I started applying to four-year colleges as a transfer student—USC gave me financial aid that covered almost everything. I had never been to the West Coast, never mind LA, but I took a chance.

I’m so glad I did.

I got involved with the USC choirs right away. I’ve sung for the USC Chamber Singers, USC Repertoire Singers, USC Concert Choir, and USC Choral Collective. I have met amazing people. We even sang in the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York for a week. Then, a few weeks ago, I even had a chance to conduct at USC Thornton’s Choral Collective Showcase. It’s lots of fun seeing the music you hear in your head come to life in front of you.

After graduation, I’ll be working as a security software engineer at Microsoft in Redmond, WA, where I also interned twice. It’s interesting–cryptography with Professor Jiapeng Zhang was my favorite class at USC, so landing this job is kind of a dream come true.

Looking back, I never thought I’d be graduating college, have a nice job lined up, and have had so many wonderful experiences.

My relationship with my dad is better than it’s ever been. I’m really grateful and lucky I’m in this position and am so thankful to all the people that have helped me along the way.

This summer, before moving to Seattle, I’ll be meeting my mom’s side of the family in Colombia for the first time. After that, maybe even my dad’s family in Mexico.

When I’m looking back at my life when I’m much, much older, I want to have the fondest memories of all the cool things I did, the wonderful places I’ve been, and the close relationships I’ve cultivated along the way.

That’s my biggest goal.

Published on May 3rd, 2024

Last updated on May 16th, 2024

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