Latino scholars share American Dreams

Last night, Gayle and I proudly attended the 17th Annual Latino Dollars for Scholars Award Dinner as LADO scholarship sponsors. We love LADO because it gives deserving and talented students vital help with the steep cost of a college education. We love LADO because it does its work with obvious, all-volunteer joy, pride and astonishing persistence.

But most of all, I think we love LADO because through LADO, we get to see the real American Dream unfolding before us, and the chance to play our small part in making sure that dream never dies.

This year, LADO awarded eighteen $1,000 scholarships to Latino college students from Rhode Island. It’s not a lot of money – unless you need a stethoscope for your nursing classes, like Marissa Laghana, who spoke at last night’s dinner. Or money for books or for travel home. It makes a difference – often it makes the vital difference between staying or leaving.

Marissa’s parents came to Rhode Island from Guatemala. Marissa was her family’s first high school graduate – and she’ll be their first college graduate, too. She knows what her parents struggled through to give her this chance and now she’s going to make their sacrifices worthwhile.

These 18 young men and women are talented, determined, directed. From this point onward they travel their separate paths to destinies they may only guess at today. For most, that future will include reaching back to help those coming along behind.

What strikes me now is the shared road they’ve traveled with their families to arrive at this night. For the families of our LADO scholars, that road starts somewhere in Latin America and travels through Pawtucket, Providence, Central Falls or Woonsocket, Rhode Island, but it’s a road Americans have traveled from every corner of the earth. For Gayle’s grandparents, that journey began in Portugal’s Azores Islands and led through the textile mills of New Bedford. My grandfather left Quebec before he was 13 years old to work in mills in Maine.

And for nearly every LADO scholar, as for our families, that path includes an education in the public schools that prepares them for college. We all know what’s very wrong with public schools, or think we do. But you only have to meet a LADO scholar to realize that there are some very good things – things essential to our democracy – happening in public schools, too. Maybe we should figure out what that is and bottle it.

And now the road approaches its reward – the completed destiny of the first child to graduate from college. The first child who will become not what they must be, but what they can dream of becoming – a teacher, an artist, a doctor – maybe the President of the United States. If this is a cliché, we need more clichés.

After a LADO dinner I’m farther than ever from understanding America’s anti-immigrant, anti-urban, anti-education anger. America needs these young men and women. We can’t afford for them not to realize their dreams – our dreams – the American Dream.

P.S. for Maritza Gomez, “our” Cause & Effect LADO scholar. We’re sorry your studies took you back to the University of Rochester before we could meet you. Best of luck with your studies and your ambition to help bilingual students.

You can find out more about LADO – and make a donation – at their website.

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