Hispanic Student Day aims to overcome obstacles





Staying in school and not allowing obstacles to hinder progress was the message that high school juniors and seniors received Friday morning at Garden City Community College, as part of the school's Hispanic American Leadership Organization's 25th Annual Hispanic Student Day.

Sonia Esquivel, GCHS graduate and now an assistant professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., urged the Hispanic high school students from western Kansas to follow their dreams. As she explained how being an immigrant, a teen mom and eventually a doctor has shaped who she is today, Esquivel got choked up.

"It's those life experiences that we go through, that you guys are going to go through, that are going to shape you into who you'll be," she said.

Esquivel shared with the students the four main causes for the high rate in Hispanic high school dropouts: teenage pregnancy, gang involvement, lack of parental involvement, and peer pressure and bullying.

"Now why is that? Why is that?" she asked, adding that while her road to success was filled with detours, with the help of others, she was able to make it.

"I would be a fool to stand here and say I did it by myself, because I didn't," she said.

She urged the students to find positive role models to help them along their way, as she shared how mentors shaped her own life.

"Grab onto a mentor, and if you don't have one and can't think of one, come see me after today because I am so passionate and so invested in all of you to break that stereotype that Latinos don't graduate from high school," Esquivel said.

One of Esquivel's mentors, Lydia Gonzales, who was on hand for the event, founded Hispanic Student Day in the mid-1980s. She was a GCCC staff member and longtime director of the LULAC Education Service Center on the college campus.

"The goal is to empower participating students from all over Western Kansas to continue their education and to make choices that will enhance their opportunities for higher learning and in the job market," said Kurt Peterson, co-organizer and Student Support Services staff member.

The visiting students from high schools in Garden City, Holcomb, Hugoton, Moscow, Ulysses and Scott City were provided with information about financial aid, shared by GCCC Director of Student Financial Aid Kathy Blau, and about how to pay for college, shared by Melinda Harrington, GCCC assistant financial aid director.

GCCC President Herbert Swender also addressed the students, sprinkling his admittedly limited Spanish in.

"Buenos dias — good morning. Bienvenidos to Garden City Community College — welcome to Garden City Community College. Soy el presidente, I am the president of GCCC. Beyond that and ordering huevos rancheros, that's the extent of my Spanish," Swender said with a laugh. "But I'm working on it."

Swender told the students that GCCC is ranked as one of the top community colleges in America.

"The GCCC faculty and staff ... we want to provide every opportunity we can for you to be successful and choose the career path that you want to be in and be there to help you be successful," he said.

Dean of Student Services Ryan Ruda explained to the students that future employers are seeking not only candidates with higher education, but also those who possess strong leadership and communication skills.

The day's events also included a virtual tour of the GCCC campus, a presentation about financial aid for college, a performance by the Garden City High School Folkloric Dance Group and a fashion show. Students also had the opportunity to win scholarships — a $300 GCCC scholarship and a $200 HALO alumni scholarship — through a drawing held at the end of the event.

"We conduct the activities as a way of encouraging young people to stay in school and advance to college or technical education," said Manuela Vigil of the GCCC Student Support Services Program. "With these experiences, the students can imagine success and value for themselves and see first-hand that academic and professional success is a possibility for anyone who is willing to work hard and take the right steps."

Hispanic Student Day sponsors on campus include the GCCC HALO Chapter, Student Government Association, Admissions and Financial Aid Departments, and the SSS and ETS Programs. Community sponsors include the League of United Latin American Citizens and three retail stores that staged the fashion show: the Deb Shop, The Buckle and Rue 21.

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