by Rob Gira, Executive Vice President, AVID Center
Jim Nelson often says that our top AVID students are exceptional, but they are not the exception. Eddy Diaz may be both. He is the youngest of 13 and came to the US at the age of 14, speaking no English. He had the good fortune to join his sister in the Dallas area and became a student in Garland Independent School District, one of AVID's top districts. Eddy now speaks three languages, completed his degree at the University of Texas at Austin, and has successfully begun his career.
You can learn more details of Eddy's story below and from our recent AVID College Ready Radio interview with him: part 1, part 2. He was also a speaker at our 2008 Summer Institute! (You can watch his speech: part 1, part 2.)
Gira: Why has AVID been so important to you?
Diaz: When I joined AVID at the beginning of my freshman year of high school, my idea of a college education did not exist. I did not grow up in a family of college graduates, and therefore, I did not think of myself as an aspirant for such an endeavor. All I knew was that universities were highly expensive, and I could not afford their price. I also knew that my family would be unable to support me financially. However, the biggest thing that AVID did for me was instill in me the idea that education was indeed achievable through hard work. The obstacle for me was not necessarily the lack of effort, but it was the lack of awareness. As an AVID student, I began to believe that education after high school was possible and the financial aspect would not be an obstacle if I was determined enough. In AVID, not only did I discover the resources that helped me go through the college admission process and find scholarships, but I also found support in all of the instructors, tutors, and classmates who believed in me.
Gira: What are two or three pieces of essential advice that you would give to incoming college freshmen, so they land smoothly and make it to the finish line?
Diaz: Based on my experience at UT Austin, I recommend the following:
Be prepared to face and overcome all of the academic difficulties that college entails—no experience or academic institution can really prepare you for college. It is a path that each and every one of us has to endure and experience firsthand.
Never lose sight of your end goal. It is easy to get distracted and find something “better” to do when you are studying. However, it will be impossible to get sidetracked if you have all of your priorities established from day one.
Keep your mind open. During your college experience, you will encounter people of different backgrounds and values. Some of your ideas and opinions will be challenged, only to make you a more intellectual, well-rounded, and tolerant individual.
Gira: What have been some key barriers that you have overcome, and how did you do so?
Diaz: Overcoming the English language barrier
I started to overcome this barrier as soon as I lost all fear of communicating with others. I realized that the only way to learn the language was to not be afraid to say the incorrect words, with the incorrect pronunciation, at the wrong time. My AVID experience helped support me with this.
Overcoming the stereotype of being a minority
I learned that the negative stereotypes were only in my head. Most of the time, it is our choice whether we let society dictate what we believe about ourselves based on our background. The worst stereotype I had about myself—a young Latino coming from a low socioeconomic background—was that I could not attend college because it was only a privilege of those who could afford it. However, education itself and the people around me helped me believe otherwise.
Overcoming rigorous academic courses
This is a barrier that every college student must encounter. I survived this barrier with hard work and the relationships that I developed with my peers, long-lasting friendships that emerged during my years in college. I was always an advocate of study groups and individuals helping each other out in class—something that I learned in AVID.
Gira: What are your plans now that you have graduated, and what excites you about your future?
Diaz: I graduated in May of 2012 from the University of Texas, and I started working at Citigroup in a rotational program under their technology department. I have now spent a full year in the corporate world, and it has been an interesting journey. I plan to finish the program, as I am still learning about corporate America.
I am in the process of discovering what I am truly passionate about and how to go about establishing my career goals and working toward achieving them. While the corporate environment has been an interesting ride, I would like to also explore opportunities in the education field, whether it is as an extracurricular activity, a side project, or eventually, a full-time job. I believe that I can make a difference when connecting with young students who have ambitions for their future and those who face obstacles similar to those that I encountered throughout my journey.