Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Reflections on Dominican University Visit with ATS 10th & 11th Graders

Submitted by ATS Outreach Advisor Jimmy Bailon

Jimmy Bailon
September 10 2016 -- My first day working for the Academic Talent Search (ATS) Program at Sonoma State University started in parking lot E of the university campus – sitting in my car waiting for someone I would recognize.  At the same time, my mind was running through all the possible first-day-of-work disasters: What if I lose a student? Am I in the wrong spot? Did I step on something? It was the infamous “Sonoma Aroma” – and just as I figured that out, I recognized my fellow Outreach Advisors from their online ATS profile pictures. It was Casey and Michael – I introduced myself to them as the new Outreach Advisor – and shortly after, David arrived and so did my bosses, Susan and Urjita.  We, along with approximately 100 ATS-students, were heading to Dominican University for a campus tour and to watch a rendition of the Shakespeare play Othello.

Soon, I was boarding a school bus filled with excited ATS students. I was tasked with roll call, and pausing before carefully reading each one, I called out students’ names – some, I recognized as the names of Aztec gods and goddesses. By the time we arrived at Dominican University my fears were subsiding as I had started to become acquainted with some of the students along the way, and with some of the parents while waiting to board the bus.

We toured Dominican University, which was founded by Catholic nuns and is known for its strong nursing program. It was beautiful – surrounded by green hills, the greenery seemed to grow into and along the sides of some of the buildings with their beautiful architecture. We ate dinner at the student dining hall and I sat with two bright students whose parents had come to the United States from Mexico. They were both student-athletes who played soccer for their respective high schools. Listening to them and other students speak about their backgrounds and aspirations, and sensing how tenaciously some of them work, I began to discover within myself a growing admiration for how they are laying a path towards a better future for themselves – and by extension, their families and communities.
After dinner, we began our trek over to an open-air theater to watch Othello just as the sun was setting over the hills. Crossing an intersection with a four-way stop, a lady poked her head out of her car as she waited for all of us to cross in front of her– and asked, “What is this?” For a moment, I thought she was bothered by the long line of students streaming across, but when I replied, “It’s a campus tour.” She smiled and sweetly said, “I hope they like it.”

We arrived at the outdoor theater, whose stage sat over a water-filled creek and seemed to float above it. The main character, Othello, was played by a former convict who had been in prison for murder and had learned the acting trade while incarcerated. His eyes and expressions demonstrated intense emotions as he played his role. It was a tragic ending and some of the students were not happy about it.
On our way back to Sonoma State, I sat in the back of the bus with some students who were taking selfies – I discreetly laughed and listened to their silly jokes. I noticed their tired but happy faces and thought about some of their beautiful and unique names. How much careful thought must have been invested in finding them?

As we arrived back to parking lot E close to midnight, I saw parents waiting and some just arriving. Some were wrapped in their rebozos and blankets, and they too looked tired but happy.  After the last student had been picked up, we all lingered and spoke about how the evening had unfolded. I was tired and hungry, but I was happy over my new job and about the good people who I was now working with.
Driving home, I felt truly happy realizing that I was part of a program that helps build the future.  The students I was now working with, for the sake of succinct categorization, are often described as coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. But in reality, they have been gifted with a unique perspective. Where they come from and where they are headed are two distinct places that someday will connect through a path that they are now paving – and that others will follow.  As I learned that day, most of them will be the first in their families to graduate from college; and when they do, they will elevate their families and communities in more than just spirit. They will be our teachers, politicians, scientists – and as they rise to these prominent positions and adapt to their new environments, their identities will be challenged and they might forget their origin. I began to wonder what would be there to remind them.  I thought of their names and families – and how for me, going to Dominican University with these tenacious students, and listening to them speak about where they come from, had brought me back to my own origin. And before I realized it, I was home and I was happy to be so.

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