The power of role models

Sam - Houston, Texas
Entered on June 22, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

This, I Believe…

I came to this country when I was barely 19 years old. As many immigrants before me, I arrived full of hope for a better life but alone and afraid of an uncertain future. That hope and optimism, however, very quickly turned into despair. For, without marketable skills, unable to communicate in English, and without the benefits of a formal education, I was quickly condemned to a life of poverty and abuse in the rough neighborhoods of North Houston.

Returning to my family in Mexico was not an option for me because I did not want to return defeated and empty-handed. I often thought about my mother’s confidence in me. She always instilled in me the hope that tomorrow will be better than today, and she always made me believe that I will always find a way to succeed no matter how many obstacles were in my way. I believe her setting high expectations for me, gave me the strength and resilience to continue on in my search for success.

Not knowing how to break the circle of poverty, I spent many months and even years in despair and hopelessness. I blamed everyone else for my having to live among drug dealers, prostitutes, and criminals. It never occurred to me I had the power to change my destiny. Until one day, I watched a documentary about the remarkable life of Dr. Guadalupe Quintanilla. She came to this country, like me, poor and uneducated. But unlike me, she took control of her life by working all day to support her family and by attending school at night. After years of sacrifice, she obtained success in the form of a doctorate degree and by working as Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Houston.

Knowing about her gave me hope and showed me the way to success. That is why I believe in the awesome power of positive role models. Knowing about her gave me the courage to go to Houston Community College and to enroll in my first class ever in the United States, English as a Second Language 101. Like her, after many years of struggle and sacrifice I am about to complete my doctorate at the University of Houston.

As an educator now, I look back to the ups and downs in my life and realize that those around me gave me the skills I needed to succeed in life. My mother by setting high expectations for me, and Dr. Quintanilla by showing that the way to challenge a future of poverty and mediocrity is through academic success; together they gave me hope. This, I think, is the primary function of the teachers of millions of children of poverty who struggle now, as I once did, to challenge a future of poverty and despair. To set high expectations, to give them positive role models, and most importantly, to give them hope is the primary function of the teachers of children of poverty…this, I believe.