Soy un Lider continues to change lives


Everywhere you looked, there were signs for Soy un Lider, all pointing to the Alumni Gym where the conference began.  So, what is Soy un Lider?

“(It) is a conference for Latino high school students … where they receive information about how to prepare themselves for college,” said Multicultural Education Department head and Director of Diversity Training and Development Jorge Zeballos. “The goals of the conference are to empower Latino students to see themselves as college students and to increase the rate of Latino students from these counties that attend college.”

First-year and volunteer Jose Oliva added, “Most of the Latinos going to college are the first generation to do it. It’s hard to navigate the system when it’s your first time doing it, not just for you, but for your family as well.”

“(I) became involved in SuL because I was fortunate enough to be part of a college access program where I was supported,” said first-year Danny Tejeda. “I want to give back to the community and aid those who do not have the same support I have had.”

For Oliva, this conference is personal.

“I came to the conference during my first year … in the USA,” Oliva said.  “I did not know how to navigate the college system.  The workshops in Spanish made more ssense then what my counselor had been (saying and) I met Irving Zavaleta … who today is still a great friend. He inspired me to say ‘Yes, it is possible’ …  SuL gave so much, how (couldn’t) I … help today? I am (a) result of the conference.”

“I would have loved something like this,” said volunteer and senior Adriana Vazquez. “I’ve been working with SuL for the past few years, and I really believe in it.”

“It’s something Guilford should be proud to host,” said volunteer and sophomore Teresa Bedzigui.  “It gives (students) a platform to ask questions they might not have the ability to ask (elsewhere).”

Talking to the students who attended the conference was a very powerful experience.  They all want the same thing: a chance to succeed.

“It will help me in the future with picking colleges,” said Aron Escalero, who attended the SuL conference.

Attendee Zeke Gutierrez said he wants “to become aware (of) opportunities.”

“I want to learn about colleges … costs and scholarship,” said Jasmine Vivar, another attendee of the conference.

The programs run during the conference taught just that.  One workshop entitled “Making the Right Choice” was designed to help the students decide what they were looking for in a school.  Taught by high school teacher Ashlea Hitchcock, the workshop made students question what they were looking for.

“You never know what will happen,” said Hitchcock.

Hitchcock also encouraged undocumented students, letting them know what they can do to go to school without fear of deportation.  For a lot of these students, knowing how to do that is a huge weight off their shoulders.

What does this conference mean for the Latino community?

“For many Latino families, to see their children graduate high school and college is a big deal,” said Oliva.  “(It) makes them proud as any other parents … Many Latino families coming from third world countries did not have the opportunity to have (the) education we do in America. For them to see their children achieve what they on(ce) wished to achieve is even a bigger deal (than for most).”

So what makes this conference a success?

“By the end of the day, (the kids) feel equipped with knowledge and prepared to begin the application process,” said Tejeda. “The increasing number of students participating in the conference each year is a good indication that the conference is successful.”