On Saturday evening the voice of Siri guided me through familiar territory as I drove over streets slicked by a mixture of dirt and precipitation. A fine mist coated my windshield making it difficult to drive. The route brought back dozens of memories as I traveled along the 610 Loop and exited at Long Drive and South Wayside. The synapses in my brain were popping with remembered stories as I drove across Griggs Road into Pine Valley, a neighborhood that had briefly been my home. I breezed past Telephone Road and looked to the right at the area where my first apartment had once stood. On down South Wayside I recalled visits to a school where I observed teachers as part of my college degree plan. A slight curve changed the road to 69th Street and I thought of shopping on Harrisburg Boulevard and long remembered trips for ice cream after visits to my grandmother’s house. I continued on past Canal Street and Navigation where I longed to make a left turn so that I might once again be at Grandma Ulrich’s home where my aunts and uncles and cousins would be gathered or should I say compressed inside a tiny space filled with so much love. Finally I turned onto Avenue R and rolled past a row of houses so much like the one that had protected my mother’s immigrant family as she and her seven siblings grew into adults. My journey that night was like a microcosm of my family history compressed into a half hour memoir. As I turned into the parking lot of Templo Bethel, my destination, I felt a spiritual kinship with the young man that I had come to honor.
This was a night of great joy for Jezael Marquez and his family. It was his party, meant to celebrate his graduation from the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. His accomplishment is no small feat. He had worked hard for a very long time and had faithfully carried out his duties as a student, a son, and a servant of God so that he might reach this glorious moment. Nothing about his triumph had been easy but Jezael is strong and he understood that he had to overcome any challenges that littered his path. Along the way he relied on the support of his family, the church community of Templo Bethel, and a host of teachers and friends. Each group cheered him on as he did the heavy lifting of being a student from day to day. Now it was time to honor him for his perseverance and willingness to sacrifice so that he might reach his goal.
I suspect that Jezael’s remarkable intellect and goodness began in the heart of his loving home where he and his siblings learned the most important of life’s lessons from his parents. He grew up in an atmosphere centered on God and he grew to understand the infinite power of family, community and faith. Always there was the church that his father shepherded that served as a refuge and place of security for him. Ultimately Jezael sharpened his natural leadership skills in the Bible classes and activities that became part and parcel of who he is as a person. His experiences inside a circle of unconditional love molded him into a fine man and propelled his dreams.
I first met Jezael when he was a freshman at KIPP Houston High School. Somehow our connection was instant. Perhaps it was because we had both come from similar circumstances. The people and places that Jezael had encountered as he was growing in wisdom and grace were so much like those that I had known. Perhaps we were kindred spirits without realizing it. Our relationship began with after school activities. It was there that I learned that this quiet young man had an infinite depth of character. He would not be deterred from his faith nor his future plans. As we discussed this and that I learned just how amazing he truly was and my admiration for him grew and grew until I realized that I was indeed in the presence of a very special person.
Jezael was an outstanding student. He is quite bright but he capitalized on his natural abilities with long hours of studying and focused efforts. Somehow he managed to find time in his crowded schedule to worship God and pay his own good fortune forward by working with teenagers who were struggling to find their way. He was one of the founding members of the UNICEF club at our high school and always seemed to be present whenever we called for volunteers for community service. We had a motto at the high school meant to motivate our students to always be their best, “Esse quam videri.” Loosely translated it means “to be rather than to seem.” In all of my years there are few people who more closely live the essence of that idea than Jezael Marquez and so I became quite close to him while he was at KIPP Houston High School.
I was very proud when I learned that Jezael was going to the University of Houston, my alma mater. I have always loved my school and I know firsthand just how well my professors there prepared me for my career and for life. I was confident that with his extraordinary traits Jezael would take full advantage of what UH had to offer. I didn’t suspect that our relationship would continue but Jezael saw to it that we would stay in contact over the years during which he worked on his degree. He regularly planned meetings with me. We kept up with the progress of each other’s lives. Those were some of the happiest of times for me, mostly because I saw Jezael reaching one goal after another just as I always knew that he would.
Being accepted into the prestigious Bauer College of Business at the university was a major milestone for Jezael. It came as the result of his undaunted determination mixed with the blessings that God so generously showered on him. Jezael kept his eye on the prize even as he became a pillar of strength for his family during difficult times. He found the energy to keep moving ever forward while never forgetting to be grateful to the people who had helped him along the way. As I learned more and more about this remarkable young man I felt that I was in the presence of greatness. I saw that he was already leaving an indelible mark on the world and he had hardly begun his lifetime of work.
On Friday Jezael Marquez will receive his diploma from the University of Houston. I am among a host of people who rejoice with him. He has inspired us and impacted our lives in the most meaningful of ways. As I noted at his party on Saturday, Jezael Marquez is the most genuine and loving person that I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He has already begun to change the world and with his new credentials his influence will be even more widespread and wonderful. I can’t wait to watch his story continue to unfold.
At his party Jezael spoke of how we are all “architectures of God.” The Lord creates beauty in each of us. I see Jezael as a magnificent cathedral, a bulwark of God’s refuge and strength. I truly believe that Jezael has been chosen by God as a special servant and that he will use his gifts to make our world a better place. I felt the presence of the Lord in the room where we celebrated Jezael’s victory. Now I am certain that he is ready to go forth and serve.