Los Medanos College held a Cultivating Student Success forum in Library Room L-109 Thursday, May 5.
Instructor Laurie Huffman, who hosted the event, noted this was inspired by the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) organization and is the precursor to LMC’s new series of TEDx Talks starting Fall 2017.
“Where students can share personal, cultural and educational goals,” said Huffman. She then introduced those who would be speaking—five LMC students who would be giving the audience “a snapshot of their past, present and futures.”
Debate coach Marie Arcidiacono then spoke about the importance of storytelling. “The power of voice can really make a difference in people’s lives,” she said, “All of us heard a story growing up that made us question what we believe in, what our values are and who we are.”
First speaker Richard Stanfield acknowledged some of his successes: he’s a 4.0 double major, honors program Scholar of the Year and an officer in several clubs on campus. He joked, “I’m not even saying this to brag. As an Asian, that’s not even an over achievement –– it’s just expected.” Growing up, he was accepted. “It never even crossed my mind that I was different.” Later in life however, he said it became difficult to be accepted as a gay, Asian man. He talked about how he was “literally run out of town” and how he waited and bartended in San Francisco as a teenager. He was also a part of a radical political advocacy group until he fell in love. “To my dismay, he was filthy rich,” joked Stanfield. He got employed at a law firm and eventually, became a paralegal. Unfortunately, at this point in his life, many of his friends were getting sick.
“I used to get sick, but I couldn’t take the medicine they had, which was good because those drugs were killing people more than they were helping.” After being diagnosed with a chronic illness, there was a moment where his health was touch-and-go, but he then found out he was going to live. After coming to LMC, he bonded with English Instructor Sara Toruno-Conley who gave him confidence about his level of intelligence. “I thought ‘I’m not clever, I’m smart – I can do this,’” said Stanfield. He left attendees with the advice “accept the help of others.”
Sacramento State-bound Vanessa Cortez was up next to tell her story. “I’ve been blessed with lots of opportunities, but there are a lot of failures as well,” she said, voice breaking. Cortez mostly spoke of her upbringing. “We were spoiled but we weren’t rich by any means,” she said. She said her parents didn’t have the best education and that one of the largest obstacles her and her family had to face was the language barrier. She often had to relay messages to her parents because she spoke English and they did not.
Determined to overcome these hurdles, she vowed she’d use her experiences to help others. She volunteered at local hospitals. When she got to LMC, she built a bond with Huffman. Cortez wants to become a registered nurse and is transferring at the end of this semester. “I want to be a role model and make her [Huffman] proud,” she said, ending her speech and receiving hugs from Huffman.
Student Veteran’s Club member and PTSD survivor Brenda Cato talked about her experiences growing up in a military family. She was close to her dad who encouraged her to pursue her dreams. When she was of age, she was recruited. She took the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Batter test and scored number three in the country, “which was very hard to do.”
She started tearing up as she recounted her time spent in the United States Airforce. Cato said the country she’d worn to protect had done her a great disservice. “They betrayed me as a woman,” she said. “They tried to tear me down through sexual harassment.”
She said there was one other woman she worked with who had gone through the same things. She found this woman’s parent and inquired about their daughter only to find out that she’d killed herself. Cato herself thought she was alone with no one to talk to so she attempted to take her own life but she knew immediately that it was a mistake. “I didn’t become a victim that day,” said Cato. “I became a survivor.” Her motivation then became about her two daughters. “I’m a mom. It’s not always easy but I do the best that I can.”
On her decision to come to LMC, she said, “I’m 49, and when I was 46 I walked up to this school and said ‘here I am.’” She hasn’t given up since. “You can’t top trying. If you stop, you’ll always have that question in the back of mind ‘what if I had just held on a bit longer?’”
“Just because you’re not the best at something today, doesn’t mean you can’t be tomorrow.”
“Learn from your mistakes and pay attention to the people around you.” By the time she ended her speech, most of the audience were wiping away tears including LMC President Bob Kratochvil.
Huffman then introduced the second to last speaker, Robert Guillory saying “one day he’s going to take my job.” Guillory said “I’m doing this on memory of a very best friend of mine.” He said when he was younger he had an idea of what his future would look like, but unfortunately he managed to “become another California statistic.” He went to prison for an altercation with his friend that ended fatally.
“I was California state property,” he said. He said he went through “a pretty deep depression over the next six years.” Guillory described what it was like, being locked up. “Violence was a part of the landscape. It was as ubiquitous as water to well.” He weighed his options and thought he could either continue to be angry or he could better himself – he chose the latter. While he was there, he taught himself Spanish along with the assistance of three other inmates. “I began to draw, read and exercise to free my mind.”
Three days after he got out, he enrolled in LMC. He took the placement courses for English, Spanish and math – he placed into the highest level of Spanish offered at LMC.
Guillory said he would love to teach at LMC and start an Afro-Latino studies course.
Sheyna Dumas was the last of the selected speakers, who was described by Arcidiacono as strong, driven and sassy.” When Dumas was approached to speak at this event she was “so flattered.” She said “later, when it sunk in, so did the self-doubt,” but she decided it was great opportunity.
“I had the most wonderful childhood,” she said, but that changed when she turned 17. She suffered from depression, eating disorders and she dropped out of high school. She’d written a speech for her senior class, and it got picked but she never got to read it because she didn’t finish high school.
From there, her life was a series of ups and downs. She found out she was to become a mother and was excited because she knew she’d be a “good at it.” Around that time, she found out her dad had cancer. He survived, but during her pregnancy, she found out her daughter had a cyst on a crucial part of her brain, which indicated she might have a severe form of Down Syndrome. She went back in for a checkup however, and all traces of the cyst were gone.
Her brother was injured in a surfing accident and was told he’d be paralyzed from the chest down. She said he is now able to use his legs. She said because that’s her only brother, she “wouldn’t have known what to do” if she had lost him.
Her mother had a ruptured tumor and had to have immediate surgery. She survived but she had to stay in the hospital. It was around this time when her daughter came down with pneumonia in her lungs. She had to take care of her recovering mother and daughter, which was hard on her and her family.
She prayed to God, telling him “take anything, just don’t take my kids.” She said her prayers must’ve worked because everyone turned out fine in the end. She advised the crowd, “keep thinking positive – don’t give up.”
After her boyfriend called her a “nigger-lover” for wanting to see her cousins, she then “wanted to go into teaching to stop the ignorance.” To end her speech, Dumas read a poem she wrote.
After the speeches were over, Arcidiacono encouraged people to give positive feedback on what they heard. She referred to this part of the event as “warm fuzzies.” There was also a brief Q&A. Attendees were also free to enjoy the Mexican-themed refreshments in celebration of Cinco de Mayo.