Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month With Some Thoughts on Higher Education

Today, nearly one quarter of the students in America’s public schools are Hispanic. By 2030, Hispanics will make up nearly 30% of all Americans in the work force. At the same time, less than 15% of college graduates are Hispanic. Moreover, by 2018, 63% of job openings will require a bachelor’s degree. This points to a sobering realization: Unless we are able to ensure that more Hispanics can get to and through college with a bachelor’s degree or higher, many in our community will be left behind and relegated to low skill employment with little opportunity for advancement or income growth.

Let’s look at this in another way. If 55 million Americans are Hispanic, are we seeing ‘ourselves’ represented in positions of leadership in the community, in healthcare, in education, the arts and in government? And similarly, what sorts of role models are we offering the next generation of Hispanic youth? We must count on this present generation of high school students to disrupt the notion that college is only for the select few and aspire to become a generation of leaders. The impact of the present generation’s success will lay the groundwork for future generations to follow suit.

Over the past few months, via our Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera program, we have had the pleasure of reconnecting with some of ‘our’ students who have made their way to college, and in some cases, just graduated. Our first cohort of Cisneros Hispanic Scholarship Foundation recipients includes John Barrios, a young man who just graduated from Yale and is currently a development analyst for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He also has his sights set on a master’s degree. We are so deeply proud of his accomplishments to date and can already see the impact of his success on Pico Rivera. John came back to Pico Rivera in June to address the graduating ‘G1Ders’, as we call them, and to share his experiences. The students in attendance left with a clear impression of what to expect in college (hard work) and with tips on how to make the most of the experience (connect with other first generation college students, seek out mentors, make friends, reach out, stay in touch) and, perhaps more importantly, they were able to look a highly successful college graduate in the eye and say: He is just like me.

Jacki and I are committed to doing our part to ensure we have an entire generation of Hispanic college graduates by continuing to support our initiatives in Pico Rivera. We will celebrate with each high school graduate who receives her first acceptance letter to her college of choice and ensure that every student in Pico Rivera, from Kindergarten on up, sees themselves as college graduates and future leaders.

They’re College Bound – Our 4th Annual College Summer Send-Off Luncheon

We’ve got great reason to celebrate this June.

Earlier this month we held our 4th Annual College Summer Send-Off Luncheon. Our luncheon honors our G1DPR graduating and college bound students at El Rancho High School. This event both celebrates this major milestone in our students’ lives and helps to connect these soon-to-be college freshmen with other El Rancho High alumni and university graduates. By bringing them together, they can exchange real world information and college bound students learn what to expect in their upcoming collegiate life.

We were incredibly happy to meet our G1DPR students’ families and celebrate their graduations and accomplishments. It was an excellent afternoon filled with support from friends, families, the school district and the Pico Rivera community as a whole. Not to mention great conversations, fun and lots of great prizes.

The most poignant moments for me were listening to our G1DPR alumni, John Luke Barrios and Monica Ochoa. They both spoke of the challenges they faced as college freshmen, sharing that they both had initial feelings of not belonging on their campuses. Coming from working class family backgrounds, there was much to assimilate to but they have both persevered.

John Luke, a recent Yale University graduate, shared this with our current G1DPR students: “Don’t ever second guess yourself. I spent far too much time my first year at school thinking about how I wasn’t good enough, instead of what strengths I brought to my school. I wish I’d focused on this more. So remember, you’re worthy. We are so proud of you. You’re worthy and you are here for a reason.”

Monica, a sophomore at Notre Dame University, spoke to students about leaning on her parents for support by calling home every week and receiving a multitude of encouragement from them, especially her mom. Her involvement on the university campus has helped her to thrive. She became very involved in several student led Latino groups and even began leading her student group during “Misa,” or Mass, at The Basilica of the Sacred Heart every Sunday. She shared words of encouragement with our G1DPR students. “You’ll soon be talking to people from different backgrounds and places, cultures and languages. You’ll be amazed by all the people you meet there,” she said.

We thank our G1DPR alumni for sharing their college experiences and we applaud the efforts of our current G1DPR students who are staying the course and participating in our college access programs. Thanks to you, each year we get closer to our mission of having a college degree in every Pico Rivera home.