Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Enyolli Martinez's Senior Speech at 2017 SMART Goes to College

Nonoko, Enyolli, and Enyolli's parents

Ponte las pilas. These are the words that have been repeated and instilled in me by my parents. In English it directly translates to “Put on some batteries.” No, I promise I’m not a robot.

For Spanish speakers like my family, it simply means: put more effort in what you do, or, get out of your comfort zone. Like giving a speech in front of 300 people. When I had a big test, when I was getting ready for a soccer game, every morning as they dropped me off at school my parents told me...Ponte las pilas. Ponte las pilas. Ponte las pilas.

Hi, my name is Enyolli Skarina Martinez Paz. I have been a SMART Scholar for almost 8 years. I began my journey with SMART at Presidio Hill School and I am now a senior at The Urban School. I want to take this opportunity to welcome you to my high school and thank the incredible teachers, staff, and faculty for helping me find new connections, grow, and discover who I am and ultimately - what I am capable of achieving.

It might be hard to believe now standing on this stage in front of you - but when I first entered SMART in 5th grade, I was terribly shy and hid behind my parents wherever I went. I initially found my strength in my mom and dad - who sacrificed everything to build a new life out of dust. They both grew up in Honduras - my father especially had huge aspirations as a young boy. He wanted to go to college and become a surgeon to help people. But in Honduras, education past 4th grade cost money - money that his family did not have. Faced with the options of moving out, joining a gang, living in poverty or death - my father decided to move to The United States - the land of dreams and prosperity.

In reality, he didn’t fare much better in the US. He faced culture shock, language barriers and unimaginable discrimination. We still lived in poverty - at one point our family of four lived in a garage. But despite the challenges, my parents never lost their positive outlook in life. Even if it wasn’t an option for them, my parents prioritized their children’s education and worked hard to give us every opportunity they could. That’s how they found SMART - an organization that I now consider to be my second family.
Enyolli speaking at SMART Goes to College

For me, SMART has become a home. Over the years, my friends and I have grown together. We’ve
empowered each other, celebrated successes and lifted others when they struggled. We’ve created a safe space to navigate the challenges of being first-generation students. We’ve supported one another academically and emotionally. For first-generation students who so often feel that they don’t belong, we’ve created a place where we are all comfortable being who we really are.

It am motivated and driven to go against the odds and statistics on first generation students. I have a younger brother, Oswen, who sees me as a role model and I want for him to see me graduate  high school and go to college so that he can follow in my footsteps. SMART taught me the importance of life-long learning, seeking the right resources, and surrounding myself with other motivated and supportive friends. I believe that my continuing education is the most important thing next to family, and the knowledge and the experiences I will gain will be something that can never be taken away.

I know that I will face many obstacles and challenges. But with resilience, persistence and hard work I will succeed.  I had to grow up a little bit quicker than other students and become more independent. My parents did not know about private schools, how to apply to college, or seek financial assistance. They had to pick it up as they went - and I know they consider my acceptance to SMART to be a huge gift to our family.

During my 7th grade year, my father had to face an immigration judge who would decide whether he could stay in the United States. Each court date he had, I worried that he would be taken away from us. If he was slightly late from picking me up from school, I imagined the worst. It was an incredibly hard time for all of us.

I attended one of his court hearings, and seeing me in tears, the judge offered me an opportunity to testify on behalf of my father. I really wanted to - I wanted to explain what he meant to us, how a hard-working father deserves an opportunity to stay in this country… but I couldn’t find my courage. Although the outcome was positive and he was finally granted his greencard - even now, I regret not having the strength to speak up that day.

Through the support of my friends, teachers, mentors, and the opportunities I received through SMART, I began to gain my confidence, focus on who I want to be, and find my courage. I slowly learned to ponerme las pilas. After my experience in front of the immigration judge, I was determined to no longer hide behind my shyness. At SMART and at school, we were exposed to topics around the vast inequity and injustice so many people face each and everyday. I learned what an incredible privilege I have been granted with my educational opportunities and support that I have received. From now on, I want to use my own privilege to speak up for people who don’t have a voice like I do.

I view myself now as an advocate for those in need.

My parents are in the audience tonight. Ma y Pa, -  thank you for having faith in me, even when I didn’t. You fought for my future and I am happy to repay you by getting my education and making you proud.

I’m really excited to be attending University of San Francisco this fall. Go Dons! They have an incredible social justice program in the city that I love, and it is one of the few schools that offers a program and support for first generation college students. I have a dream of joining the Peace Corps so I can help lift others and travel as widely as I can. I was also inspired by the empathy and compassion the immigration judge showed my father, and I am now contemplating a career in immigration law.

My journey with SMART will not end after I graduate Urban. I’ve already volunteered - ok, Nonoko volunteered me - to lead a tour of the campus to SMART high school students during our College Tours. But I am happy to support SMART in any way I can.

Today, I pledge to help others and give back to this life-changing program. To continue to be active at SMART means that I can make an impact on the next generation of SMART Scholars so that I can tell them, just like my parents have always told me - ‘Put on your batteries’, and even though the words don’t translate, the meaning always will. ¡Ponte las pilas!

Thank you so much for your support!