My name is Jorge Juan Rodriguez V and I am an alumnus of Head Start. I am the son of two Puerto Rican migrants who came to the United States without knowledge of the language, culture, or setting; all they knew was that America was the land of prosperity and opportunity. Though many would be discouraged by the daunting task of establishing a family in a completely foreign land, my parents took it as a challenge, knowing that the possible reward of a better life for themselves and their child far outweighed any possible risk. This drive pushed them to find any and all opportunities, and perhaps the most influential was enrolling me in Head Start.
Since my parents only spoke Spanish, when I was young I didn’t speak English. Amidst this adversity, my mother was able to enroll me in Head Start. Whilst there I learned English, socialization skills and basic educational skills –letters, numbers, reading, art. This foundational curriculum propelled me forward through the remainder of my educational career amidst the sociological barriers of racism, class, migration, and language acquisition. In elementary school I was identified as a gifted student and placed in programs to further push my skills. This was again true in middle school where my academic achievement served as a stepping stone to attend high school at the prestigious Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy. I excelled in the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum and my academic achievements translated into calls from Yale, Harvard, Connecticut College and other universities. I graduated from the IB Academy with my High School Diploma, an International Baccalaureate Diploma, High Honors and was accepted into Gordon College where I received a full, four year scholarship.
On Saturday May 17, I received my diploma. I graduated with a B.A. in biblical studies and was acknowledged with Summa Cum Laude, as a Kenneth L. Pike Scholar, as a Clarendon Scholar, as a member of the Phi Alpha Chi honors society, and Collegian of the Year (the most prestigious student award given at Gordon College). Though accepted to Harvard Divinity School and Yale Divinity School, in August I will move to New York City where I have accepted the Presidential Scholarship at Union Theological Seminary - the highest award granted to one student in each incoming class that will cover all the expenses as I pursue an M.A. in Theology. I am here today because of my Sovereign Lord, my sacrificing parents, and the amazing education I have received, which wouldn’t have been possible without the rudiments given to me at Head Start.
Though I am one of the many who have had much success because of Head Start, I’m also aware that I’m one of the few. For every student being admitted to Head Start programs across the nation, another is being put on a wait list or denied. What they are being denied access to, however, is not a program but rather a step up, a chance at an equal opportunity. As we commemorate Head Start’s expansion, let us celebrate those who have gone through the program and now, decades later, are reaping the benefits the program promised. But let us not forget all those who are wait listed or denied; work must continue to be done for them. To the members of the Clinton administration, thank you for giving me and others an equal opportunity through Head Start.
As it’s said in my community: Si Se Puede! God Bless you all.
Photo by Mark Ramsay via Flickr