The First in My Family to Graduate College
Image: Alan Light / Flickr

Dr. Carlos Campo is President of Ashland University and founder of the Faith & Education Coalition-NHCLC. He was first in his family to attend college, and he recently shared some of his personal story at the 2016 Preparate` conference “Educating Latinos for the Future of America.”

Please feel free to share Dr. Campo’s inspiring story with parents and students on Education Sunday.

Neither one of my parents graduated high school. My father was a musician and my mother a singer. It was a vibrant, exciting, very different life. I didn't know how different it was until I realized everyone didn’t have talented singers, actors, and performers visiting their homes!

It was a vibrant home, but the odds were against me when it came to high school graduation. What I had in my favor, however, were parents who set high expectations for my success. My parents made me believe I could do it, that all things are possible and that education would be in my future.

My dad was probably a lot like your parents or grandparents in that he felt it was his duty to assimilate in a specific way: language. He saw that English was the language of power, the language of commerce. He felt that for us to succeed, we had to assimilate and invest ourselves in the English language. And so I did.

I was that young kid, like many first- or second-generation Latinos, sitting in the classroom thinking, My name is Carlos Campos" A Latino name was a gift from my father,, but I didn't feel like Carlos Campos. My facility with the Spanish language wasn't great. I didn't have my father's beautiful dark skin, the calor de café con leche. I felt if I could just disappear into the broader American culture and divest myself of being Latino, then I would fit in.

My experience came full circle years later when I began teaching at a community college and saw all these beautiful brown faces in my classroom. I began asking them " Why are there so many Latinos in my class?" They said, "We saw your name." I was astonished. The Latino name I didn’t value when I was young had become a beacon for students who thought He will know something of our lives, our struggle. My students had suddenly swaddled me back in my Latino culture and gave me a new pride in it.

I loved those students, and was saddened for the ones who worked hard to graduate high school only to discover they were undocumented and wouldn’t be allowed to attend college. I remember the first time I got into an administrative meeting and began talking to folks who'd stepped above the classroom and looked at larger issues of student success. In that meeting, I thought to myself, I may be able to have a greater impact on more Latino students, and more students generally, by providing better access and opportunity and all that comes with .

I became an interim dean at a college, the largest college in Southern Nevada, and have now led two universities as president.

I have two important themes to share with parents of students at the K-12 level. First, every student must be challenged in the classroom at a higher level. We must prepare every student effectively for college and for life. High expectations are the first step to high achievement. You can be the first in your family to graduate high school. You can be the first to graduate college and complete graduate school.

Second, I invite you to remember that your Latino heritage is a gift. It goes with you into your college and graduate and professional life. It does not hinder you, it enriches you in ways you may not understand for years to come. God weaves all of us together for his glory and his purposes, rich and poor, brown and black and white, from all parts of the world.

You are uniquely created for purpose, and both your heritage and your education will pave the way to dreams you’ve yet to dream. I echo the words a mentor shared with me long ago, "Carlos, we have to teach our young people to dream bigger. We have to expand the sensibilities of what they really can achieve."

November
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The First in My Family to Graduate College