This I Believe

Estela - East Hartford, Connecticut
Entered on May 30, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
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National Public Radio

This I Belief

I live in Hartford and work in different projects related to K-16. Because of my work, I am invited to speak to students in Hartford Public H.S. They ask me back every year so I can retell the students my story.

What I tell them is that the person standing before them with the big impressive title was a loser in high school. I tell them that right after I arrived in this country I went to a high school in N.Y. City which I hated with a passion. I recount how no one welcomed me there, how I never was invited to parties, or included in social activities, probably because I was not wearing the right clothes. You see, my clothes came from Catholic Charities.

My high school failed me in many ways. One of the things they tried was getting rid of my accent, and you can see the result. They placed me in a class for foreign students where the guy who sat next to me would give me the f… word every time. I, of course, smiled, because I had no idea what he was saying.

The teacher, I still remember his name, made feel ignorant because I could not pronounce words the way he did. It took me many years to understand that having an accent did not mean knowing less, but knowing more because I could speak two languages.

I confess that I failed Geometry because I missed 23 days of classes in one semester. But I also tell my student audience that I learned the most important lesson in my life in that high school. I realized back then that whatever I learned, no one could take away from me. I realized that if I gained weight, which I have, education would still fit. If I moved, I could take what I had learned with me. I had lost everything when my family came to this country, my home, my friends, my toys, my books. Instinctively I knew I needed to find something that would be permanent. I realized no one could steal my education. It would accompany me throughout my life.

I am not sure how I picked learning as my calling. Maybe it was because I believed inside me that I was not really a loser, maybe it was because I wanted to show others that I could become someone. Learning became my passion and it is the reason why I became an educator.

When I go Hartford high schools I see myself in the eyes of the students. I challenge them to study, to believe just as I did in high school, that the best they can do for themselves is to get an education. You see, I want to make sure all the losers in high school can have as good a life as mine.