Friday, May 29, 2015

Izzy Garcia - Step Up Speech 2015

Izzy (center) with her parents
As I reflect upon my time as a SMART student, I am reminded of  the endless amount of events, experiences, resources, interactions, and people that have contributed to making my time here at SMART one of the most rewarding and unforgettable experiences of my 18 years. 

However, there are far too many memories and moments that can wholly define our experiences here at SMART. From wearing fancy uniforms in middle school everyday, to our favorite outings to the park in front of City Hall, to moving into a new SMART office a grand total of 3 times, to CAP socials, to those dreadful test prep classes, to the Socal college tour, and more, these memories would not have been as significant if I had not shared them with my peers. You guys are part of the reason why I chose to join the College Access Program after we graduated middle school. I knew that the bond we first created as 9, 10 and 11- year-olds was something that I did not want to give up. Thankfully, it has flourished ever since.  

I can recall that very first day of SMART. I remember standing on the white stone steps, between two detailed white columns, underneath a ledge that read The Hamlin School in gold letters. I was dressed in brand new white sneakers, a crisp navy pleated skirt, a weird white top that resembled a sailor shirt (called a midi), and a carefully ironed tie that hung from my neck. My hands grew sweaty from clenching my backpack straps and my foot tapped impatiently as I waited outside my school for the infamous SMART bus. 

I remember the butterflies in my stomach once the clock struck 4pm. I was excited and nervous  to discover what SMART was all about. Finally, a rather small yellow school bus turned the corner, and made a screech with its brakes when it finally made a stop in front of the Hamlin mansion. “This is the bus we’re going to be picked up in?!” I thought to myself. I looked to my left, I looked to my right, saw no one in sight and then I rapidly jumped on. The narrow brown plastic seats that only fit one to two people and the smell of rubber seemed inviting. I saw familiar faces on this bus and also some that I hadn’t seen before in my life. Not even 5 minutes into the bus ride, did it come to my surprise that I heard kids on the bus start talking to each other, asking each other for their names, asking what schools they each attended. 

But most of all, I heard laughter. In that instant I felt safe. 

The transition of going into a private school made me feel like I was in an entirely different universe, but I knew that I wasn’t the only one going through this change. On that small, yellow school bus, my SMART peers and I were already starting to bond and build a community.It’s been a total of 9 years. SMART class of 2015, we’ve been here for 9 years. That’s almost a decade! I don’t know about you guys, but that makes me feel hella old.  We grew up together, guys. We’ve known each other and have watched each other grow from ages 9 to 17 or 18. I’m sure Nonoko remembers the small, cute, baby-faced, energetic and shy 4th and 5th graders that we once were when we started the program. 

Nonoko says, "I do!" Cecilia & Izzy 2009
And I’m pretty sure Ben and Erin remember working with the awkward, prepubescent, obnoxious, talkative, but bright middle schoolers that we once were too. And now, Ana Maria, Karla, Laura and Cindy have gotten the honor of not only working with us CAP students, but nagging and harassing us over and over these past 4 years. Whether it was to get us to come to workshop, telling us  to get off our phones while we did homework, asking us to fill out scholarships, reminding us constantly to finish our college apps and personal statements, or telling us to take advantage of tutoring, these ladies, as well as the other staff members have pushed us to reach our full potential. 

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing since I began my time at The Urban School and at CAP. In addition to my classmates, my SMART experience would not have been fulfilling without the unconditional support, care, and encouragement I have received from every SMART staff member. If it was not for the staff members here and my love for the program, I would not have partaken in teaching last year’s CAP freshman about Identity and Social Justice, joined the Student Advisory Board, written and taught my own Identity lessons to SMART middle schoolers, been an office intern for Karla, helped out at SMART events and fundraisers, interviewed potential SMART candidates, volunteered or even agree to be the graduation speaker tonight.  

With the help of SMART staff, I became more proactive in seeking help with math and writing and became more involved in the Urban community. My time at CAP and Urban has been a significantly influential time in my life. I have transitioned from being a small, introverted, curious, energetic, clueless and occasionally shy kid to a still small but, well-rounded, confident, conscious, engaged and more extroverted young adult. It is because of all the SMART staff members that have worked with me throughout the years, that my passion for learning, helping others, teaching, and social justice  has heightened. 

As a senior in high school, I have not yet made a final decision for the college that I will be attending next fall. I am currently enrolled  at CSU Channel Islands with a declared sociology major, as I wait to hear back from Sarah Lawrence College, with the option of attending City College for two years and then transferring. My college decision process has not been so linear ever since my top choice school, Loyola University of Chicago, accepted me but failed to give me sufficient aid. While having had to turn down Loyola was the most frustrating moment in my college process, it is because of SMART that I will not view my current situation as a defeat, but as another chance to push myself to my full potential, take a risk, and make a sacrifice all the for sake of a great education and a brighter future. 

Regardless of the college I will attend next fall, I know I will take every opportunity that comes my way and I will make the best of whatever path I choose to take. And I will use the morals of hard work, motivation, and positivity that the SMART staff has instilled in me.  Thank you SMART class of 2015, thank you SMART staff members, thank you tutors, volunteers, and mentors, and thank you mom and dad for my 9 wonderful years at SMART.

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