You will be inspired by this story of an incredible young man, Ernesto Xavier Velasquez, whose parents immigrated from Ecuador to live in the United States. When Ernesto spoke, he brought me to tears, because in many ways his story parallels my own experiences.
He reflects the achievements and enormous leadership potential of Hispanics in our great country. He received the Verizon HABLA Scholarship in the amount of $5,000 during the (HABLA) Hispanic Achievement & Business Leadership Awards 2013.
Acceptance Speech by Ernesto Xavier Velasquez
Good afternoon. I’d like to start off by again thanking all of those who made this event possible today. The HABLA organization is doing phenomenal things by promoting achievement and
success throughout the Hispanic community. I’d also like to thank my biggest supporters, my parents and teachers, without whom I wouldn’t be here today.
Thomas Edison once said, “There is no substitute for hard work.” If you look around, you will see that all great achievers have put in immense hard work to become what they are. That’s why there’s nothing more important to me than giving my best effort in anything I do. So, to be here today in front of many distinguished leaders of the Hispanic community is truly an honor.
It was at a young age that I developed an affinity for school. Placed in advanced courses, the majority of my friends also had the same love for school that I did. It did, however, take a few years before I personally realized that “hey, maybe I’m not so bad at this school thing.” Fast-forward a few more years, add some all-nighters, caffeine, a healthy amount of stress, and the occasional “I give up, I’m going to bed,” and here I am today.
As a senior and leader in my school, I serve as President of my school’s Spanish club where we try to promote the Hispanic culture in school and throughout the community. I am also President of our Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) club which prepares promising students to excel as future health care professionals.
As a 4-year veteran, I am also serving as the principal clarinetist of my symphonic band. My role includes being section leader and woodwind captain. Additionally, 4 years of varsity soccer has earned me the position of co-captain. I currently sit 3rd in my Senior class of 250 with a 4.7 GPA.
Sure all these things sound nice on paper. But in reality, I’m no more intelligent than the average kid. My work ethic is the only thing that sets me apart from others. And that work ethic is what I’m counting on to keep me going.
While many of classmates have come down with a case of the oh-so-common of “senioritis,” I’m taking advantage of the fact that this is my last year of high school, my last year to leave an impression before I head off to college.
After this whole “apply, apply, apply” part of my life is over, I’m hoping that I will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From there I plan to get my undergraduate degree in biology. Ideally, I would like to work in the health care field, so I am also considering medical school.
While concentrating on school is a must, it’s also important for me to take time to appreciate my Hispanic culture. It has shaped my thoughts, actions, and my essence. From all the times I’ve spent at church, playing a pick-up game of soccer or dancing salsa with my friends, to all the times my mom has told me “Mijo, si no limpias tu cuarto no tienes permiso para salir,” my Hispanic community has irreversibly affected me for the better. And although I wouldn’t trade my culture for anything, it has its drawbacks at times.
I have always admired my parents, seeing how much they sacrificed for my siblings and me. They left their jobs, their friends, their family, their world essentially, to come to the United States, to give us a chance. We started our life here with two suitcases and a small, one-room apartment.
My mother lived here for two months before the rest of us reunited with her only to be separated again when my father stayed to work in New Jersey while we moved to Florida. After several grueling months of separation, we reunited in North Carolina. That’s when I began to realize how hard they worked to give us all the love and support that we needed to make us believe that we can excel, that we can break the stereotype.
They have taught me to appreciate every opportunity I have had. I know that simply being in this country is a privilege. Having access to the education that others can only dream of is beyond rewarding. That being said, things haven’t always seemed so inspirational. There are times when being so far away from my Ecuador really affects us. We are so distant from the rest of our family that sometimes we feel isolated.
When my grandfather passed away from pancreatic cancer, there was nothing we could do to see him. When my grandmother was held at gun point in her own house, all we could do was pray that she would be alright. I have family that I haven’t seen in 12 years.
But when my parents first arrived in the States, they thought that everything would go smoothly. And yes, while being here is still better than living in Ecuador, there have been times when going back seemed like the best thing to do but we didn’t have the luxury of going back. It’s frustrating to see my parents struggle, especially financially, to see that a simple green rectangle with different numbers on it, something morally worthless, can have such an impact on them.
It’s even more infuriating when my parents won’t allow me to work because they want me to focus on school. They realize that what they do might not always be enough, and that really hurts them. They see that Hey, his instrument is broken and he needs a new one but they can’t buy me one. Or maybe they see that my sister really wants to take vocal classes, but it’s too expensive.
They work so hard, but sometimes they forget that. It gets to them. They break down. I break down. Sometimes, we break down together. But you know what, I’m glad that I haven’t always had the best of everything. It’s taught me that things don’t come easy, that if I want to succeed, I need to work hard. It’s taught me character, dignity and pride.
I don’t’ let my past keep me down. While it’s important to reflect on it, it’s even more important to use my past as a catalyst to help keep moving forward. I use everything I’ve learned from my hardships and turned them into positive lessons that help me grow and be a little better each day.
It’s awards like this that give me the motivation to keep going, that ensures me that all my work, all of my parents’ sacrifices, have not been in vain. This scholarship is going to help me chip away at my college expenses, but more importantly it reminds where I have come from and where I’m going. After years of hard work and dedication in and out of school, it’s satisfying to know that others value my accomplishments.
People think that they know where their limits are, but they can often surpass those expectations in ways they might not think possible. If I had one message to tell the Hispanic youth of the United States, it would be this: It doesn’t matter what background you’re from, how much money your parents make, what clothes you wear. You can do anything you dream of. Believe that there is a way.
Don’t focus on the problems at hand; look ahead to what you can achieve if you just keep going. It will always be within reach. Thank you, again, for taking the time to support the Hispanic community and for awarding me this scholarship that allows me to honor my culture.
Let us all congratulate Ernesto for his achievements. He has a bright future ahead of him as he begins his journey of building his intellectual capital in college so that he can continue to provide even more invaluable contributions to our society. Well done, Ernesto, you make all of us very proud to be Hispanic!