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San Antonio, TX 78251
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Winning Essays 2013 > Joaquin

Winning Essay: Joaquin J. Rodriguez

Why a Degree? To Accomplish More. 

Student-Joaquin-MediumWe were in our driveway on the way to the hospital when my father collapsed in my arms.  I was nineteen and I was in denial of the series of strokes my father was experiencing.  As I struggled to keep my father from falling I finally felt the weight of our mortality.  I, the invincible teenager, would one day die and my father would most likely pass in the near future.  My family needed money and I was fortunate to get a job from my friend’s father.  I want to write that I was selfless and dutiful but I was secretly resentful.  I felt that something was taken from me.  I felt alone, like a man on a tight rope and so I resigned myself to focus on the challenges that laid ahead; one step at a time. 

I excelled as a salesman but I was not content.  My mother urged me to volunteer at her school and help her students with their media project.  The subject of the media project was simply “What I want to be when I grow up”.  This is where I met Natnael.  I asked Natnael what he wanted to be when he grew up.  He mumbled into his chest unable to look me in the eye.  He thought his dream was stupid and unattainable.  I told him that a dream worth having was supposed to sound a little stupid and I promised him I would help him achieve his dream.  I was terrified that I promised him something I couldn’t deliver.  He offered gently, in a voice slightly louder than a whisper that he wanted to be a musician.  Relieved, I called my musician friend Caleb.

Natnael walked with his shoulders slumped over his hips; carrying the weight of the world while staring at the ground, as if he was more interested in his shoes than the world in front of him.  He was polite but only forfeited a few words at a time.  Caleb was a patient man with a warm and engaging disposition and I was sure Caleb would find a way to ease Natnael.  Both Caleb and Natnael played piano so I set up an interview and arranged for two pianos to be present hoping this would help things along.

After meeting with Caleb, Natnael came into bloom; he gained confidence, he smiled, he was lighter on his feet and he walked with his head up.  Natnael made friends.  What I didn’t anticipate was how Natnael’s transformation would inspire his teachers.  His progression stoked their collective fire and lead them to secure for him, a scholarship at a summer music camp.  I’m sure many other students benefited from their renewed passion.  I wouldn’t see Natnael after that summer but his growth gave life to something that laid dormant within me.  His rebirth gave me permission to pursue my passion.

The focus of my mother’s school is to offer immigrant children the opportunity to acclimate before integrating into Seattle’s public school system.  These children experienced a lifetime of adversity some leaving behind friends, parents and appendages but they remained hopeful that something better existed.  These children persisted out of necessity.  They were tough but their hearts were not hardened; they saw the world with forgiving eyes.  I often think of these kids but it’s Natnael that haunts me.  He never shared the burden that he carried but I think he found a place to lay it down.

There are times in life when we must focus on our next step, so much so, that we neglect looking ahead.  I could’ve stayed in Seattle and sold paint but I stumbled upon a truth and gathered the resolve to not look away.  Paint salesman are useful but I discovered that I wanted to be something more than useful; I needed to live a meaningful life.  I’m thirty and I want to be a doctor.  I feel a little stupid saying it out loud and at times and I’m a little scared that it’s beyond my reach.  I’m comforted by these feelings because I learned that dreams should sound a little stupid and that if I’m a little scared it’s only because I’m growing.  I desperately want to accomplish more.  I want to ease the burden of others and contribute to their growth.  I’m driven to make a significant difference in this community and that’s why I want to earn my degree from Northwest Vista.