Khaliq’s fellow senior (and roommate) Ruben Guardado also awed the large crowd. Today, “06880” readers will be similarly moved by this outstanding young man’s words. He said:
Last year, I did my junior research paper on Che Guevara. I wrote a quote that meant a lot to me in one of my notebooks. Now, as I look back on the last 4 years, it’s become even more meaningful. “The road to success,” Che said, “is pictured as one beset with perils but which it would seem an individual with the proper qualities can overcome to attain the goal. The reward is seen in the distance; the way is lonely.”
Of course, Che was talking about revolutionary struggle in Cuba and elsewhere. But I realize now that I’ve traveled the road he described.
I was a little nervous when I first came to Westport, but I was ready to dive into the world headfirst. I had visited Staples in 8th grade, and it was literally awe-inspiring. It seemed like the perfect place to go to school, but I knew that it would mean leaving behind everything — and everyone — I knew.
I grew up in San Diego, in the barrio, where everyone was Hispanic or Latino. My heritage was pretty unremarkable because it was the heritage we all shared. We didn’t think about it or talk about it. We just took it for granted: we all spoke Spanish, we all ate tamales at Christmas, we all went to quinceañeras when our cousins turned 15.
Then I moved here. And hardly anyone was Hispanic or Latino, and no one spoke Spanish — although a lot of people were trying to learn it. No one ate tamales at Christmas, and instead of quinceañeras everyone went to bar mitzvahs. Suddenly my heritage became pretty remarkable, even to me. And that is probably the most important aspect of my experience as an ABC scholar. Being here has enabled me to grow and change — but also to become more myself.
When I first got here, my day-to-day interactions with the kids who became my friends, the teachers who taught me, and the adults who cared for me highlighted the differences between us. The weight of it all finally hit me. I walked around with a large lead ball in my stomach. But even though I was homesick, I had the support of my family and the A Better Chance community.
In time, I found my place in the school community, and I found activities I enjoyed and people I really liked. I stopped seeing my peers as a monolithic group of teenagers, and I started seeing them as individuals. And I think that the same thing happened to them: they stopped seeing me as a Hispanic kid and started seeing me as Ruben, who happens to be Hispanic.
It has totally been a 2-way street. We have shared and borrowed from each other’s cultures. And now I am proud to be Ruben, who happens to be Hispanic and who happens to wear Sperry Topsiders, which I can guarantee you no one in the barrio wears. When I wear them home on break, I definitely get some funny looks. But I am kind of proud of them. They are proof that I am part of 2 cultures now. I am San Diego and Westport.
As a junior — feeling more secure — Ruben chose Che Guevara as the topic for his research paper. He learned that despite his flaws, Che had a vision to help the unrepresented and oppressed. Ruben also learned that his culture is filled with leaders, pioneers, writers, artists, scientists and musicians.
Ruben thought that engineering might be a way to address some of the problems he saw in San Diego and elsewhere. He understood the importance of working together, to help others. He repeated Che’s quote: “The reward is seen in the distance; the way is lonely.”
But, Ruben continued: My way has not been lonely. Even at the beginning, when I first got here, I never felt alone. I always knew there were people who were with me every step of the way.
He thanked past and present ABC chairmen Steve Daniels and Eric Seidman, house parents Desiree and Titus McDougald, house cook Merrill Boehmer, many volunteer drivers and tutors, and his host family: Nancy Yates, Bob Andrew, and their sons Sam, Ben and Eli. Then he said:
Although only one member of my family is here, I would like to thank my dad, Ricardo, who was the motivation for everything I did. My brother Raul and sister Viri were always waiting for me to get home so we could get back to bickering, which — strangely — I missed while I was away.
And last but not least, the most important person throughout this entire process: my mother, Teresa, who was my inspiration, as well as a great friend when I needed someone to talk to. Thank you all for always being there and for supporting me in everything that I do.
Ruben paused, took a big breath, smiled, and concluded:
I’ve learned many things during the past 4 years, but the most important thing I’ve learned is who I am. As much as this has been a journey of miles, it’s been a journey of self-discovery. I am who I am because of all of you.