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A path to success

By Joshua Pilkington

Graduates of renowned universities praise opportunities of higher education

When James Mejia graduated high school, he knew his journey toward the path of higher education and a better life was just beginning.

“I grew up with a father as a high school teacher and a mother as an early childhood education expert,” said Mejia, Denver mayoral candidate, former CEO at the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Notre Dame graduate. “For me going to college was second nature. We never talked about what we were going to study or where we were going to college.”

“It was never a decision to continue my education,” said Harvard Law School graduate Everett Martinez who agreed with Mejia. “Thankfully the environment in which I was raised made seeking higher education an expected necessity. I think this is really important, as it was an unspoken expectation. My parents and sisters set great examples for me regarding how to excel in higher education and the benefits that would follow once I did.”

Not all students have the same privilege, however, and the scholastic struggles, financial burdens and doubts of whether or not upper education is all it is meant to be can lead a student to believe that he can find a suitable lifestyle without a college degree and in some cases without a high school diploma.

Lorenzo Trujillo, a lawyer and graduate of CU Law, differs.

“Data are truth and the truth is that without a high school education a person makes the decision to struggle throughout life,” Trujillo said. “The data show that without a high school education life will be shorter — with substantially less income to live on. Hard data indicate that youth who do not complete a high school education are choosing a life of poverty, illness, and subject themselves to modern day slavery because they always have to work in a subservient situation for minimum wages.”

That is something that Trujillo said he would not allow to happen in his life.

“College gives a person choices,” he said. “A college education is the new entry level requirement for the job market. My college education has provided me with a lifetime of true fulfillment because I have been able to do so many things, participate in multiple careers.”

“The key motivator was my mother,” said Colorado School of Mines graduate Jaime Rizo. “She was a working mother and school teacher who wanted the best for her children; the most important: motivation.”

For Judge Christine Arguello, her motivation was on the negativity she experienced from fellow classmates. “The biggest obstacle a young peson has to overcome is negative peer pressure,” she said. “The laughter of those I believed to be my friends cut me to the core. Even 40 years later, tears come to my eyes when I think about that day and again hear that laughter. But, the silver lining in that cloud is that I often wonder whether I would have worked as hard as I did to gain admission into Harvard if I had not heard that laughter echoing in my ears. I was determined to return to my 10th year reunion with a law degree from Harvard and to watch my classmates eat their laughter.”

Mejia added that aside from opening avenues to new opportunities and a better lifestyle, a college education can also teach an individual how to overcome difficult challenges.

“I certainly found that academic challenge when I entered one of the top business school in the country at the University of Notre Dame,” Mejia said. “I remember dropping Calculus my first semester of school because I would have failed. After dropping the class, I continued to monitor class and do the homework. I took it Spring semester and got a B.”

As for advice they can offer the recent or soon-to-be high school graduates who may be debating whether or not to continue on to college, the graduates had strong advice.

“College deepened my understanding of the world in ways I hadn’t thought possible and provided me the skills to work in areas that I enjoy,” Mejia said. “Above all college showed me the joys of learning and provided choices for what I wanted to do with my life.”

“Make finishing college, even graduate school, an unwavering necessity in your life, not simply a “dream”, Martinez said. “As hard as life can be in high school, it honestly gets much harder as an adult. To be without a degree and trying to succeed in today’s world is akin to going to war blindfolded and weaponless. Staying in school, no matter what, is the greatest advice you will ever get. It is the single most important thing one can do to change their life for the good, and the lives of their future children.”

“It has taken me around the world,” Rizo said of his college education. “It gave me the best there is to enjoy.”

“Having a college degree from CU and a law degree from Harvard automatically gives me credibility and opens doors to the most prestigious types of jobs and interactions with people at all levels of society,” Arguello said. “It also inspired me to continue my professional and personal growth on my own through my reading and independent research. As a result, I have the option of changing jobs when I get bored without suffering financially. I have been a trial lawyer in two large law firms, a law professor, Chief Deputy Attorney General for the State of Colorado [working side by side with Ken Salazar], in-house counsel for the University of Colorado at Boulder, and am now a Federal Judge, nominated by the president of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. How much richer can life be?”

Trujillo added that his college education has also afforded him several opportunities he would not have had otherwise.

“I have been able to help others,” Trujillo said. “To work with children, youth and their families, to perform in concerts throughout the western United States and on television and radio, to teach in high schools, universities and community programs, to influence laws that are for the betterment of our society, and more fully participate in the world I live in and not just watch it from a distance.”





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