There was a time when little girls were the high achievers in elementary school but as they progressed through middle school and high school they were eventually overtaken by the boys. That trend has slowly and dramatically changed over time. Today there are more young women enrolled in universities than men and to their credit more of them actually earn degrees than their male counterparts. I witnessed a microcosm of that effect this past weekend as so many of the young ladies with whom I had formerly worked graduated from universities all across the country. I was overwhelmed with the deepest pride and respect for them because I know that their hard labors began long ago.
Sara Reyna was one of my Algebra students. She was a quiet and somewhat shy young lady caught in the midst of my most rowdy class. She was not prone to their pranks and purposeful distractions but was far more studious and determined. Over the course of four years Sara and I shared many conversations in which I learned much about her courage and grit. She wisely chose to befriend an outstanding group of like-minded young women and together all of them became some of my all time favorite people and great success stories.
Sara always reminded me so much of myself. She stayed in Houston to attend college while her friends went away. She worked while going to school and was somewhat uncertain as to what she ultimately wanted to do with her life. It took her time and much soul searching to finally realize that she wanted to be a teacher. I knew that she would be incredible in that capacity and hoped that she would one day join the ranks of those of us whose profession is dedicated to passing the torch of knowledge from one generation to the next.
Sara somehow managed to work and handle eighteen hour course loads in her quest for a degree. On Friday her dreams came true as she walked across the stage at the University of Houston to receive her diploma in Education. She had won yet another hard fought battle and I am giddy with happiness for her and her family because I know how important this moment is. I also believe that when the school bells ring in the fall there will be some very lucky students assigned to Ms. Reyna’s class. Knowing that Sara will be in charge gives me nothing but great hope for the future of our boys and girls.
Sara shared her joy with yet another of my Algebra students, Meliza Aranda. Meliza was also a rather quiet student who was lucky enough to be in a class with more serious and focused individuals. She and I never spoke much but I noted that she was always polite, prepared and studious. I had lost track of her after graduation from high school, so it was with great delight that I realized that she had attended my alma mater, the University of Houston and that she had also chosen to major in Education. Like Sara, Meliza graduated this past Friday.
I spent many years interviewing prospective teachers and I now have a knack for determining how well a person will do inside a classroom. I predict that Meliza will be a masterful teacher. The students and parents will have a treasure in her. I’m blissfully happy to know that she is now part of the educational sisterhood.
Meanwhile at Texas Tech University, Julie Dominguez claimed her Masters degree in Biomedical Sciences. She is from the same Class of 2010 as Sara and earned her first degree two years ago. Julie is a happy person who always seems to beam with an inviting smile. She loves people, sports and her family. Sadly she has seen more tragedy than most. Only weeks before her graduation her beloved cousin was murdered as he attempted to come to the aid of a woman who was being attacked. It was with a profound sadness that she somehow found the fortitude to finish the work for her graduate degree. Now she plans to move forward with great purpose so that she might honor her family.
Julie is a brilliant young woman who has a way with people and with words. She recently posted her thoughts on Facebook and inspired all of us with her bravery and her faith. “Thank you God, you have a purpose for us all,” she began. “Even though I don’t know where life will take me, I know you will lead me to my purpose…A special thanks to my angels who are always taking care of me from above. This triumph is dedicated to all of y’all that make me a better person.”
I suspect that this is only a first step for Julie. She is a woman on a mission and she will not stop until she is positioned to make this world a healthier and happier place for all of us. I am certain that she will bring the change that she wishes to see in a world that has not always been kind to her and her family. Somehow Julie Dominguez remains a shining light of optimism for all of us.
Marissa Garza, another Class of 2010 KIPP alumna, has always kept her eye on the prize. As a student at KIPP Houston High School she demonstrated a maturity and intellect a step above her peers. She is a wise and loyal person who instills confidence. People seem to seek her out as a comforting presence. Somehow it seems only fitting that she graduated this weekend with a degree in nursing, an occupation that fits so perfectly with all of her nurturing qualities.
Earning her diploma has been a stressful battle with difficult coursework and hours long rotations in the hospital that might have defeated a lesser person. Marissa admits to having shed many tears in her quest to become a nurse but somehow she kept picking herself back up and slowly but surely moved forward. She is eager to take her certification exams and get her license to practice her skills.
Someone somewhere is already going to have a better experience with a health problem because Marissa will be there to help him/her through the process of regaining health. The same loving and encouraging ways that her friends and family have always observed in her will become the foundation upon which she will no doubt build a stunning career.
I am so proud of these four incredible women. Each of them had to overcome challenges to reach goals that seemed so distant back when I first met them. I have watched them change from giddy young teenagers into mighty women of distinction. Their actions and character make KIPP Houston High School and all of us who worked with them there feel incalculably proud. They have truly climbed the mountain of educational success and I suspect that their view from the summit is breathtaking. I know that as I watch them from my vantage point I am in awe.