By Lusdymer Pichardo, WHEELS BETA
Last Friday, each 8th grade student at WHEELS climbed the stage of the auditorium. By the time they had reached the opposite end of the stage, they were officially high schoolers. Discussing the road to come for these students, BETA Lusdymer Pichardo reflected on the road behind her in her speech at the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony. Full speech below.
“Good morning. It is an honor to be speaking at this years moving up ceremony. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Lusdymer Pichardo or Ms. Pichardo as some of the 6th 7th and all of the 8th graders know. This past year I worked as a BETA, a blue engine teaching assistant, in the 8th grade math classroom.
Many of you especially within the 8th grade were shocked to know that I was a recent Yale graduate. Not because you didn’t think I was capable but because many of you never knew a person of color….a Latina, especially not a Dominican who had ever gone to Yale, let alone graduated. Neither did I when I was 13 years old or even in high school. No one in my family had been a college graduate.
I came from a family of immigrants, like many of you. Even though my sister and I were the first generation born in the United States, my first language was Spanish and it will always be my home language.
A day didn’t pass when my mom didn’t remind us that she came to this country “para que ustedes tengan la educacion que yo nunca tuve” when she didn’t remind us that she used to walk “yo ni se cuantas millas con un cubo en la cabeza para buscar agua” and that although she always enjoyed learning, her aunt prevented her from going to school because cooking and maintaining the house was top priority. My sister and I pray that she would hurry with her speeches so we could watch the TV in peace.
Although I hated to listen to her rant, I was aware that it came from a place of love. We never had enough money in the house and my mom only us wanted to have a better future, filled with financial stability. Yet, I was too young and immature to understand that education could provide that for me.
Therefore, throughout elementary school I only did well to please my mom. I wanted her to be proud of me and knew that it made her happy to watch me excel academically. However, by the time I got to middle school, I was tired of pushing myself to excel. As much as I wanted to make my mom happy, it annoyed me that my teachers didn’t think we were smart enough and therefore never challenged us. For reasons that I would never understand, these teachers had given up on us. I remember an 8th grade student at wheels telling me she expected me to give up on her because so many teachers in the past had done so. I very much understood and felt her frustrations because at 11 years old I felt the same way.
However in 7th grade, I had a teacher with a military background who refused to give up. She was mean at first and we all hated her. Yet she challenged us like no other teacher would. Unlike other teachers who had made excuses for students with IEPs she expected us all to get 3’s and 4’s on our state exams. Although we were only 8th graders, she pushed a handful of us to take regents. We all thought she was crazy. I hated that she cared so much wanted her to just let me be average… mediocre.
To her satisfaction and our surprise we all received 3’s and 4’s on both state exams and I entered high school with Spanish and biology regents credits. It wasn’t until high school that I realized that my teachers nagging had pushed me to challenge myself. More importantly the time she took to get to know my family and home situation, to get to know me as a person instilled a confidence within me that I never had, not only in my academics but in everything I did. I see her in all of your teachers at WHEELS. In the way they are invested not only in your academic growth but also your personal growth. It amazes me how strong the relationships are between teachers and students here. Through my experiences I have become a strong believer that part of academic success involves some level of mentorship. Those of you remaining at wheels are lucky to have a staff of teachers who deem you special and important enough to want to get to know you beyond the classroom and watch you succeed. Not everyone will want that for you. People often have no problem celebrating in your success but it takes dedicated teachers and friends to also support you in your downfalls.
When I was a senior in high school, through the help and encouragement of my mentor, I decided to apply to Yale. I never in a million years thought I would get in but I decided there was no harm in trying. When I went to the college counselor’s office, a woman I had never met, to tell her of my decision, she looked at my SAT scores and background and “No. No one from our school has ever gotten into Yale and your scores are too low.” That moment was when I realized that even though there will always be people telling me I cant do something, I knew I had to try for myself. So, without my counselor’s support, I got my application together and applied. And I got in. Even though not everyone believed in me, I knew that I believed in myself and therefore put 100% of my effort into this and it paid off.
Its great to try and impress your mom or teachers but the immense satisfaction you feel when you’ve done something for yourself is like no other. I hope that throughout this year and years to come you learn to wish success for you. Because the work will continue to get harder but if you have confidence and continue to strive, success will follow. So i leave you with this- high school, whether at wheels or somewhere new, is the place to continue your personal growth. Whether you were successful before or not, high school is a fresh start. You cant rely on your past success or your past failures.
I wouldn’t be a teacher if I didn’t give you some summer homework. Think about how you want next year to be. How will you change your actions and mindset to be the best person you can be. Then put those thoughts into actions. I will be checking up on you next year through the hallways, in the classrooms and by asking your teachers. 6th and 7th graders, I’m talking to you as well. As I heard someone once say, nothing in the world is impossible because within that very word is I am possible.
Congrats again on moving up to high school. I expect nothing less than amazing achievements from the class of 2016. Thank you.”