HCI ends with tears, laughter and memories

HCI brunch

By Randy Gonzales
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- There were hugs and tearful goodbyes. There was also a time to laugh and for final pictures to be taken for the participants, and a video was shown to remember their four days on Fort Hays State University's campus.

FHSU's inaugural Hispanic College Institute -- the first of its kind in the state of Kansas -- came to a close with a Saturday morning brunch which reunited students with their families. The almost 90 high school students in attendance last week grew close to one another, became "familia."

There was also a sense of something else Saturday morning, that this was not an ending -- but instead a beginning. There was a sense of hope. More than one student said the plan was to go to college at FHSU, including Carla Moran, from Kansas City. Mo., who will be a junior this fall at Alta Vista Charter High School. Moran is a DREAMer (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), an undocumented student.

"We can go to college," Moran told her fellow students. "I don't have papers and I'm standing here -- and I'm going to college. I know that each one of you feel that, the drive to leap through the barriers.

"You guys keep educating yourselves, keep standing up for yourselves," she added. "I think each one of you has a voice."

The students were divided into 10 "familias" with FHSU students provided for each group to lend a helping hand during the week. Several students thanked their FHSU "leads."

"She has made me believe in so many things I never thought I could," Cheyanne Woltkamp said of one of her FHSU student leaders. Woltkamp, from Kansas City, Kan., will be a junior at Wyandotte High School this fall. "I want to go to Europe to play soccer, and she made me believe that I can. No matter what obstacles may come my way, just jump over and grab them."

One of the male groups called themselves the "cereal killers" because they bonded over breakfast each morning.

"Let the world know your name," said Andres Mata, a "cereal killer" who will be a senior this fall at Salina South High School. "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door."

The importance of getting a college education was the message stressed during the week. FHSU President Mirta M. Martin -- the first Hispanic president in the Kansas Board of Regents system -- told the students in her speech Saturday they need a college education. By 2020, she said, 60 percent of adults in the United States will need a college education to maintain the country's standing in the world. She added that Hispanic students were falling behind in getting an education.

"A college degree no longer is a luxury; it's a necessity," Martin said. "It's a necessity to fulfill your dreams and aspirations. It is a necessity to become your best self. It is a necessity so our nation can have a future. It is the mission of Fort Hays State University to make sure you get that college degree."

Jacqueline Chavez, from Johnson City, who will be a senior this fall at Johnson-Stanton County High School, won the talent contest held during the week. She won a $2,000 FHSU scholarship. Her talent was acting, and she did a dramatic portrayal from a favorite book of hers, "Speak," by Laurie Halse Anderson. Chavez was overcome with emotion when her name was announced as the scholarship winner on Saturday.

"To know that I have a chance to go to such an amazing college just made it all worth it," she said. "This is my first school choice.

"It was really amazing," she said of the whirlwind week. "I actually have a family here now, and it's amazing."

Ernie G, a Latino comedian and activist who was brought in by Martin to help facilitate FHSU's first HCI, gave of himself one final time on Saturday.

"This week has been about moments, moments of truth," he said. "The moment you got off the bus. Moments when I performed for you. Then you got into your 'familias' and you bonded and shared your stories."

Ernie G closed by singing "For Good" from the musical "Wicked." He has sung it at other Hispanic college forums. This time, he seemed to choke up ever so slightly toward the end, singing, "Who can say if I have changed for the better, but because I knew you I have been changed for good."

As a first generation Hispanic attending college, Chavez's life will change for the good.

"I feel like I'm going to set the path for the rest of my family," she said. "It is hard to be a first generation. We can make a better country, a better place for everybody.

"They're going to be really proud of me, I know they are," Chavez said of her family. "I want to make everybody that's Hispanic proud."

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