A Message to Moraine Valley Faculty and Staff from José Ángel N.

(The following message is from our One Book author and MVCC Alumni José Ángel N, which he read to the participants in a workshop held for faculty and staff. During his visit to campus, José expressed his gratitude for the impact that Moraine Valley had on his life. This piece expresses his feelings and is shared with his permission.)

A Message to Moraine Valley Faculty and Staff from José Ángel N.

A four-year old child sits down to read. She flips through a book. She puts it down and quickly moves on to another one. The first one is in English, the second one, in Spanish. From his office at Oracle, a 28-year old young man holds daily videoconferences with colleagues from places like Brazil, India, China, the United States, and Canada. Even though he has never left the state where he was born, he holds such meetings in English, a foreign language in his native country. A 60 year-old woman, who barely had a chance to finish elementary school, picks up 100 Years of Solitude for the first time and loses herself in that magical world. Those people are, respectively, my daughter, my brother, and my mother.

Do not underestimate the power that each one of you (at Moraine Valley) has to transform the lives of people. People you might not even know or ever come in contact with; people who have not yet been born; people whose prospects in life might’ve been truncated otherwise; people who rather late in life have discovered the complexities and the pleasures of literature.

Many years ago, when working in a restaurant not too far from campus, I used to hear people say that they were the first person in their families to go to college, and I wondered what that meant. I especially wondered why that seemed to be so important for them. That was about fifteen years ago, and now I know why going to college is such a transformative experience in a person’s life—a college education has the power to touch lives in ways you can’t really imagine or articulate when you haven’t had access to higher education.

When I entered the doors of the Student Services Center to sign up for classes I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was that I was excited. After all, what I was doing was something completely unprecedented in the whole history of my family. But I was also terrified—how on earth would I manage to get through college? I was about 28 years old when I first came in through those doors barely knowing how to write in complete sentences, having only very basic reading skills and nothing more than a rudimentary knowledge of math.

In many ways, I was still the same 13 year-old Mexican child who was forced to abandon his formal education and help his family make ends meet. And this is not uncommon in my native country. I have recently read that 48% of children and teenagers ages 12 to 17 in Mexico have never been inside a library. Not that the Mexican government doesn’t care about education—the children of governors and senators attend schools like Cambridge and Harvard and Princeton and the University of Chicago—but that’s a different story, or perhaps it is the same story: a story—a history, I should say—of inequality and injustice that people like me only learn about once we have a chance to enter places like Moraine Valley.

Anyway, it took me many years, but I finally understood the pride in my coworkers’ faces when they shared with me their enthusiasm about being the first person in their families to go to college. They meant making a decent living, discovering their intellectual potential. They meant human growth—a chance to become a person in full possession of his or her own destiny.

Without the work that you do here at Moraine Valley, the life of many people who are now professionals or those for whom the simple act of reading a book has become a true revelation would not be possible. So today I come here to say thank you, to express my gratitude and to say that the border that divides our nations is not everything that we share. We share something far greater and more intimate than that: we share something that transcends arbitrary lines, languages, and political systems, something that is common and dear to all of us.

September 15, 2015

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