By Sandy Chase, a UnidosNow volunteer writing coach and co-editor of the monthly newsletter, who has been working with Eric on his college essays.
Excuses can crush us—only if we let them.
As a high-school freshman, Eric had finally realized that he was nurturing deception, so he began starving it. A “highest-honor” graduate and multiple-scholarship recipient entering Flagler College this fall, he’s determined that success will thrive.
“I let poverty, immaturity, and academic challenges dictate my life—although my mom tried valiantly to protect my sisters and me. By attacking faulty thinking, I’ve overcome obstacles—the biggest one, me.”
Eric reflects on his poor choice of friends, who scoffed at college. Mob mentality reinforced his excuses for failure.
“As a terrified eighth grader failing math, I deceived myself, thinking that dropping out would be the right path. If my dedicated drama teacher, Ms. Mills, hadn’t come to my rescue, providing math tutoring, I don’t know what would’ve happened.”
Eric continues, “I got a fresh start at Booker High School (BHS). Looking back, I can say that mistaking the College and Career Resource Room for the guidance office was the best mistake I could’ve ever made, even if that room intimidated me at first—with all those smart kids.”
Eric looked for an escape but couldn’t come up with any excuses. Lured back to that room, he met Saul Coplan, a volunteer for Take Stock in Children (TSIC), and others who have been a positive influence.
“Mr. Coplan, who’s relocated to CT, is the reason I joined TSIC. I’m convinced I wouldn’t be a multi-scholarship winner without him.”
Eric attributes his triumphant journey—quashing excuses—to other BHS and UnidosNow mentors and coaches as well.
“Mr. Coplan’s successors, Mr. Downing and Dr. Mims, have encouraged me to reach my goals. And Mr. Andrews, BHS’s postsecondary advisor—renowned amongst his colleagues and prized by his students—has helped me navigate the college application process, including scholarships.”
Downing and others attribute Eric’s success to his communication skills and critical thinking: “Eric has demonstrated that he’s a focused life-long learner in pursuit of personal and educational goals.”
For Eric, post-Christmas was a whirlwind of completing college and scholarship applications—all while working part time at Detwiler’s Farm Market; volunteering at the North Sarasota Library, shelving books and reading to the kids; and assuming a leadership role.
Eric knows his direction. “Time management is critical to accomplishing my academic and career goals. I now have a weekly schedule.”
Eric’s diligence has “paid” off—receiving scholarships from the following organizations, foundations, and institutions—enabling him to pursue a tuition-free political science degree towards a political career.
- Selby Foundation
- Gulf Coast Community Foundation
- Take Stock in Children
- Five Pearls of Excellence
- Flagler College scholarships, including one from the Lead Fund
A frequent visitor to the college room, Eric also learned about UnidosNow at the beginning of his senior year. Since then, Eric has worked tirelessly with Hector Tejeda, his mentor, who’s provided a writing coach, transportation—even an “interview suit.”
Hector attributes Eric’s exemplary achievements to who he is:
“Eric is the epitome of grit. Faced with hardships, he’s demonstrated courage and resilience in overcoming every obstacle. He’ll make a difference in this world.”
Eric has already made a difference because he’s committed to others—bolstered by his leadership skills.
Eric’s community service began as an adolescent, helping to feed the homeless through MIRA, a community nonprofit. As a senior, he became a peer counselor for BHS’s College for Every Student (CFES) program, introducing freshmen to the college room and CFES. (For information about CFES, click on here).
“Through CFES, I helped distribute canned food to Hurricane Irma victims. I’ve also mentored Take Stock underclassmen about preparing for interviews.”
Closer to home, he’s turned bilingualism into a strength and has been a role model for his two sisters. In fact, his older sister has joined the UnidosNow Future Leaders Academy (FLA).
“I helped save my neighbor: I was his wife’s translator so she could understand what information the EMT needed when her husband was having a heart attack. I’ve also translated for my mom during parent-teacher conferences. At Flagler, I want to use this skill once I’ve adjusted to college life.”
Introduced to politics by Jose Maldonado, a senior Eric befriended as a freshman during gym class, Eric is determined to learn everything about the political process. “Jose is my role model.”
Inspired by Maldonado, Eric also donates monthly to Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Moreover, Eric’s interested in volunteering, saying “I’ll go door-to-door and speak with the St. Augustine community, encouraging constituents to exercise their right to vote.”
Eric—the first in his impoverished family to attend college—will be facing unknown hurdles.
“I can’t wait to start Flagler. I realize I’ve much to learn between now and August—and excuses are out! Money management is critical. Hector will teach me budgeting. As a Selby scholar, I’ll also be provided with a community mentor whose background is related to political science”
Dr. Rachel Shelley, BHS’s esteemed principal, who has worked with Eric as a student-government officer, says, “Eric has flourished, demonstrating unbelievable leadership skills, especially in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. As a Booker Ambassador, he has a passion for helping others.”
She continues to say, “I’m proud to be his principal.”