MARCH 18, 2015

An Evening of Inspiration

Inspiration Justice Yu

An Evening with the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project: An Evening of Inspiration

Written by Dr. Arron Grow

The Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP), is a program of Sea Mar Community Health Centers. The program promotes the cause of academic achievement for Latino/Latina youth through advocacy, mentorship, and encouragement. At present, LEAP provides student leadership activities for high school and college students, and sponsors an annual 3 – day educational conference and legislative day. Among other activities at conference, students participate in workshops, engage in peer-to-peer discussions, serve as leaders and presenters, and travel to the state Capitol in Olympia to meet their elected representatives and discuss education policies.

Last week I had the pleasure and honor of attending the 2015 LEAP VIP Reception & Scholarship Awards Dinner. The event was held at the Murano Hotel in downtown Tacoma, WA. It was a wonderful event. The keynote presenter was Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu. Justice Yu has an amazing life story. In her presentation that evening she shared her life story; some of which, for reasons that will become clear in a moment, I’d like to share here. Mary Yu was born in Chicago and raised of first-generation immigrant parents – her mother is Mexican, her father is Chinese. She spoke of her parents love and the hard work they put in to give their ‘little Mary’ opportunities they themselves did not have. She did well in high school but had no plans for college until a caring teacher spoke to her about college. She met with Mary’s parents to get their permission to visit a college 30 miles away. To her parents, 30 miles may as well have been 3000 miles because without a car, even three miles seems a great distance. She went to college and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology. In time she realized that to do more in service to others she needed a degree in law which she then earned. A fast-forward from then to the present day takes her story from the Chicago area to Seattle, to service as a prosecutor, to a judgeship, and finally to a chair on the Washington State Supreme Court.

At the award dinner I had the pleasure of watching several students of Latin American decent receive scholarship to attend schools throughout the state. Several gave presentation about their journey and their plans for attending the colleges they had chosen. I had the pleasure of sitting beside several of these students during our dinner. I did a selfie with one of them, Liz. She will be heading to Central Washington University in the Fall.

College representatives were also on hand to congratulate and welcome them. There were a lot of smiles, a lot of tears, and a lot of proud parents. As satisfying as it was to see this, the point I want to make here is that Justice Yu’s story and the experience I had that evening provided a strong reminder of a very important life lesson; that putting hard work and higher education together can bring a person to an entirely different station in life.

In sharing all of this, I know I am preaching to the choir, sharing thoughts that all who value higher education already know. Still, the evening was a refreshing reminder of how far people can go through education and hard work. Here’s something most people don’t know. I myself am a product of the lesson. My mother, with her mother, were among those who worked as migrant workers throughout Oregon Washington. I am the first in my family to go to college. My parents were of humble means. In their wildest imaginations they could not see the possibilities I later discovered. I consider myself an example of overcoming barriers. Not as many as some, but perhaps more than others. That night I saw I saw a bit of myself in the many youth who were preparing for and already in college; living the dreams that their parents had for them, moving along a course that will far surpass the path they may have originally known. As a college professor I’m delighted to be a part of that journey. All who are leaders and teachers in higher education should be just as proud.


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