Students share stories

Hardships create influential speakers

Kimberly Stelly, [email protected],com

Five students were chosen to speak to an audience of their peers during Los Medanos College’s second successful “Evening of Cultural Conversations.” The event held Tuesday, Nov. 15 in L-109 was meant to invite the audience to understand the personal struggles and journeys of each speaker.
The event led by Instructors Marie Arcidiacono and Laurie Huffman, began its planning back in July.
“It means so much to my journey as an educator because I can see I can do what I love to help and inspire students — they trust Laurie and I with their stories,” said Marie Arcidiacono. Huffman said she was excited about the diversity of the speakers. In terms of choosing the speakers, her and Arcidiacono picked some students and some volunteered as well.
Huffman prepared the audience for what was to come saying, “The power of storytelling will come alive tonight.” She then introduced Ahmad Salman, who gave context into the meaning and history of Islam. He acknowledged the many sects as well as dispelling myths that it’s a religion of violence and intolerance.
Paul Murillo was the next to speak. Huffman said, “Not only is he a role model for the class, he’s one for this entire college and this community.” Before he began however, there was video titled “#MissionRise” showing a group of his peers pulling his wheelchair up a mountain. At a point in the video, they picked him up and carried him.
At the beginning of his journey, he was troubled. He got involved with a gang and he ended up having to go to a continuation school.
“I didn’t read textbooks — I read what I saw on the streets.”
After going to juvenile hall, Murillo said it hardened him rather than helped him. He had a moment of existential conflict with himself because he knew that this isn’t the direction that his life should have been going in. he decided to make a change when four days after he turned 19, he was shot four times. Once in the head, his jaw, his neck and his shoulder.
“When I though my life would change for the good, it became a nightmare,” said Murillo.
He was told he would never talk or walk again. This news devastated him. He shut out his family, friends and god. On top of everything, he faced abuses in the hospital he stayed in. “I felt defenseless,” he said.
But he received a miracle. After receiving a visit from an RT who discovered that he could once again speak, he knew there was no limit to what he wanted to achieve. He’s now regained feeling in other parts of his body and he has reconnected with his loved ones.
Diana Cobian talked about her experiences with having cerebral palsy. Though she faced excruciating pain due to multiple surgeries, she never gave up on pursing a fulfilling life.
She noted that God was also a huge part of how she was able to make it through her struggles. One particular night, after having a major surgery on her left leg, she was having intense muscle spasms. Her mother had given her medicine already so there wasn’t much she could do about the pain. She told her mother at the time that the only thing left to do, was to “just pray.”
At the end of her presentation, she said life wasn’t meant to be all good times, as people will lead you to believe. “Life was not meant to have a happy ending, it was meant to be lived,” she said.
After a short intermission, Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor Dr. Helen Benjamin made a short speech about her educational journey. She talked about “keeping it moving.” She grew up in the segregated south, but she didn’t let that stop her pursuit of education.
She pointed out the benefits in growing up around people color — it was motivational for her.
“Getting an education is supposed to cultivate you, make you different — better.” She said if you’re not being changed by your education, then you need a refund. She said luckily, at LMC, the faculty and staff are great so the students have spent their time at this institution well.
“I will not stop working on behalf of the students — that is my life.”
Veteran Justin Kerns took the stage to talk about his transition from the United States military to civilian life. “Culture shock is a mild way of putting how I felt,” he said.
After witnessing the horrors of war, he suffered through PTSD and survivor’s guilt. He said this was especially hard to deal with because he had more friends die after war than during it. In the background was a slideshow of his friends who have passed. He said the statistic saying 22 veterans commit suicide a day is frighteningly accurate.
He need to “find a way to cope” so he began to drink. Also, he was working 60-70 hour a week in a grocery store and going through physical pains from injuries he sustained as a soldier. He had accumulated a bit of debt from attending a few for-profit institutions.
His miracle came in the form of a check however. He was able to wipe out his debt and have money left over to put away.
Dolce was the last to speak. She talked about the internal struggle she faced because being the first American born child in her family was a lot of pressure, especially because her traditional Mexican values clashed with her goals often.
“Education is not valid in my family,” she said. She grew up having to help tae care of her siblings and be a good example for them. “I have to keep my head up all the time,” she said.
She also had to be translator for her parents. “How can your parents help you with your homework when they can’t even read the instructions?”
She had to pause for a bit, as she was starting to tear up. At this point, she had started talking about what it was like having to help a family member with autism. After relaying a particularly taxing experience, she “I’ve been able to transform my pain into peacefulness,” she said.
She ended her speech with the quote “falling down is an accident, staying down is a choice.”
The event was then concluded. Huffman expressed that she hopes this event will be continually successful as time goes on. Attendees were encouraged to take pictures with the speakers.
Arcidiacono expressed that these sorts of events are important because you never know “how your story could help someone going through a tough time.”
—Brooke Sampson contributed to this report