I was asked and flown out to be their Keynote Speaker for the graduating class of 2014. I was honored and moved to hear the girl's stories. It was a great experience meeting everyone who has made Circle De Luz a possibility and touched to see there is hope and great things happening all across the US. If I can leave the world a little better before my departure, then I found my purpose.
Always Dream Big
Good evening everyone: dedicated directors, mentors, proud parents, and graduates. I am very honored to be a part of your special day. You all went through so much to make it to this day—the high and lows, triumphs, challenges, and even the harsh realities of our world.
The harsh reality is 41% of Latinas do not graduate with their class after four years. 53% of Latinas will become pregnant at least once before the age of 20, leading them to drop out of high school or college. However, we are here to celebrate a shift in those statistics. We are here to celebrate you.
I know you have faced all kinds of doubts and uncertainties when you first began this program. I know exactly where you are coming from. My parents immigrated to this country a few months before my birth leaving everything. They left their parents, families, and possessions. Everything. They came with the hope to find a better opportunity for their children.
My parents didn’t speak English. My mom had not graduated from high school. My father needed to start all over because the US didn’t honor any of his electrical training from Ecuador. What my parents did have is the drive to make it. A cousin of ours opened his apartment to the four of us—my dad, mom, sister, and myself—slept on one mattress in their living room those beginning years. My mom began cleaning homes and working at a fast food restaurant earning the CA minimum wage of $3.35 in 1984. My dad worked from job to job early mornings to sometimes graveyard shifts while attending night school to learn English. Sometimes there would be no work. Sometimes minimum wage wasn’t enough, but my mom still found ways to cook and feed her children sacrificing her meals often. She later told us there were many nights she would go to bed hungry. I saw it in my parent’s hands then and I can see it in my parent’s hands now: the calluses of endless hours of physical labor to try to make it. Despite how much we may have struggled financially, they always came home and told me over and over: we are doing this so you don’t have to.
Naturally, parents want their children to have a better life than they do. They never let me settle for less than my best. As a little girl, I read every book I could get my hands on. I spent summer hours on end at the library or bookstore-- studying, reading, and allowing my mind to explore the possibility of what was out there. The more I learned, the more I craved.
I didn’t know what was the new hip song at the time. I couldn’t tell you what TV show was trending. I couldn’t even name mainstream movie stars. What I could do was create, explore, and challenge my mind in ways most children couldn’t. I questioned everything. I explored and researched everything. I still do. I rushed home from school, did my homework, then rushed to the library to catch up on more periodicals. I won academic competitions and city-wide art competitions as I spent hours at the craft of learning. Years later, I ran 100 marathons over half of them in 3:35 or faster by age 28 marking me as the fastest and youngest Latina in the world to do so. I spent hours at the craft of practice. I lost a few toenails in the beginning, but they grow back. I began to learn what were the habits of the successful. Interestingly, what I learned was my parents practiced those habits of success just as the very wealthy figures of our time do. My parents who came with nothing to this country scrutinized for being immigrants who didn’t speak English now live comfortably in a small home still working earning moderate wages. They speak English and are successful in my eyes. They are not rich in material possessions; however, they are wealthy in happiness. I have learned through working hard and living with passion that happiness is success.
7 habits of success:
1. WORK HARD. Relentlessly. Life does not reward lazy. I spent everyday studying and practicing to reach my goals. Everyday, I visualized and reminded myself of what I was working for and went after it. I graduated high school with straight A’s for 4 consecutive years at the Top 1% of my school of 2,500 students. I then applied to every scholarship I could find. I did it every year, volunteered, and worked part time to pay for college. I published as an undergrad. I finished undergrad in 3 years. What was my reward? I graduated undergrad and graduate school from UCLA with a 4.0 debt-free without any loans in my or my parents’ name. This was my gift to my parents. I didn’t sleep much. I didn’t go out after my first year, and there were nights where I cried my soul out because it was hard. But I didn’t let the color of my skin or my background stop me from earning an education. I would walk into a hall in the science department at UCLA that could seat several hundred students and I could count in the palm of my hand the number of Latinos in the room. It’s a harsh reality that some will have to work harder than others, but never let that stop you. Never let excuses stop you from living. Find reasons to keep achieving.
2. BE PERSISTENT. If something doesn’t go your way, try again and again and again. The greatest inventions and triumphs of our time didn’t happen on the first try.
3. BE FEARLESS. Have the courage to take risks. Go where there are no guarantees. Get out of your comfort zone, even if it means being uncomfortable. The road less traveled is sometimes filled with barricades, bumps, and uncharted terrain. But it is on that road where your character is truly tested — and your personal growth realized. At times, it hasn’t been easy. Unrealistically high expectations, unprecedented scrutiny to my race, and what sometimes feels like a chorus of naysayers rooting for me to fail — all of that only fueled me to be stronger.
Courage will be required of you on many fronts. Have the courage to seek the truth, speak the truth, stand up for the under-dog, and to stand up against intolerance — even if yours is the lone voice doing so. I wanted to make a statement that we as Latinos can be successful through academics and athletics. Bring color into the sciences. Bring color to our sports. Have the courage to trust your gut and your own moral compass — your innate understanding of right and wrong. Have the courage to love fearlessly and unconditionally, and don’t compromise that love because of arrogance or insecurity. And have the courage to accept that you’re not perfect, nothing is, and no one is — and that’s OK.
4. BE RESILIENT. You will inevitably face disappointment, loss, and struggles that are, at this moment, inconceivable and impossible to predict. Loss of a job, loss of love, loss of a family member. Each will test you and bring you down to your knees. Find the courage to pick yourself up again and again. Because it will make you stronger.
5. BE PASSIONATE. Do what you love, even if you don’t love it every day. I decided to pursue a profession that made me excited to get up in the morning and that excitement sustained me through the long hours and the inevitable failures and disappointments. I love running. I love teaching. I love learning. I love exploring. I did those as a child and I aim to still do those as an adult. I’ve been able to combine my passion for education and fitness into one that has allowed me to explore the world running to the top of mountains or connecting with a student in my classroom.
According to a survey of 75 business leaders with Stanford MBAs, the most important predictor of success is self-awareness. That means knowing — and accepting — your own strengths and weaknesses. Look at yourself honestly: understand your passions, your skills, your temperament, and limitations.
A Harvard psychologist named Daniel Gilbert has spent decades studying happiness and he found that cash and contentment are almost completely disconnected. Sure, having money gives you one less thing to worry about, but don’t look to it as a magic ticket. Winning the lottery won’t even give you a more positive outlook. According to Dr. Gilbert, six months after they hit the jackpot, lottery winners are only about as happy as they were before.
Happiness has much more to do with your basic constitution, your outlook on life, and loving what you do. I love to run. I love to learn. What most don’t realize is teaching is learning. Therefore, I’m a lifelong learner.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. If you find yourself unhappy with your line of work, change it. It’s scary to start over. But it’s never too late. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. Don't ever settle and don’t ever think it’s too late to be passionate about what you do.
6. BE OF SERVICE. Service is better than selfishness and usually a lot more rewarding. I found my heart to be warmest when doing missionary trips with UCLA premed students in the rural villages of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Watching families travel through the night barefoot to meet us to receive basic dental and medical care touched my soul. Never judge those who are less fortunate or even those who are seemingly better off. Dr. Gilbert has studies that prove that generous people are also happier people. Keep caring about the environment, about politics, women’s rights, about the poor and disenfranchised, and, most of all, about others. We are in this world together. Just as someone has helped you be where you are, help others behind you. Caring gives us purpose.
7. LIVE YOUR LIFE. Everyday life goes by in an instant. In this fast-paced, crazy world, slow down enough to appreciate the many things you will experience — a puppy’s smile, your first love, the beautiful symmetry of a blossomed rose, or the embrace of a friend. As a little girl, as a teen, and now young woman, I tell my mom: live your life like each day may be your last. Let go of the little worries and come back to them when you are more at peace and learn to appreciate living each day. Our attitude and perspective on how we approach life goes a very long way.
The 7 habits: Work hard, be persistent, be fearless, resilient, passionate, service others, and live the little joys and you will find the internal fire to push through the good and bad times. As women, we have the power to change the world with our boundless potential. This morning, I read an article about a 91 year old woman who ran her first marathon at age 76. She’s battled cancer twice and earlier this month she ran the San Diego Marathon setting a NEW world record for the fastest time for 90+ year olds: she finished in 7hrs:7min. When asked will you come back next year, she said: “If I am still alive, I will keep trying……” Her name is Harriette Thompson and she’s from Charlotte, NC. This goes to show dreaming big doesn’t end when we’re 18, 30, 50, or even 90. Don’t settle. Strive for your extraordinary. Like my parents told me when I was a child and I remind even adults to this day: Continue dreaming, continue trying, and believe in yourself because it is the belief in yourself that will pick you up when you're down. Our potential is endless and continuous. It is never too late to live your dream and strive for your unique definition of success.
May you all be successful and happy. Thank you and Congratulations graduates!