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October 2015

This Month from Cliff

October 21, 2015

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: We Have a Story to Tell the Nations

As I sat in church on Sunday, the words to a childhood hymn came to my mind:  “We have a story to tell to the nations, a story of truth and light.”  The reflection reminded me of last week’s Hispanic Heritage Awards ceremonies, where we heard two powerful stories that highlighted why RCC pays tribute to students of Hispanic descent in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades who have a grade point average of 90+. RCC honored over 400 of these special students over two nights, and the Cultural Arts Theater was filled with students and their very supportive families. Many of these students will have a story to tell in the future, a story similar to that of our speakers, Lucy Redzeposki, the Director of Economic Growth and Tourism for Rockland County, and Michael Greco, United States Marshall for the Southern District of New York.

Hispanic Heritage Night 1

(Left to Right): Grant Valentine, Rockland Community College Trustee; Madeline Bello, MTS Honors Student Speaker, Lucy Redzeposki, Director of Economic Growth and Tourism, Rockland County; Dr. Cliff L. Wood, President, Rockland Community College; Madelene Aponte, Assistant Director of Financial Aid, Rockland Community College; Yaritza Santana, Recruitment Specialist, Rockland Community College

Stories are important to me. They convey messages and inspire others the way nothing else can do. Phillip Wilson, the preacher I heard on Sunday at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Brattleboro, VT, long ago taught me the importance of stories. He is a close friend and was the rector of our church in Morristown, NJ for many years. He is himself a great storyteller, and over the years when he has invited folks to preach/speak, his instructions are “Tell your story.”  I learned that stories are powerful tools to help people understand what is possible, what one hardworking, determined person can accomplish – sometimes under very difficult circumstances. And so our two speakers, both very successful individuals, told their stories and how they came to be where they are today.

Hispanic Heritage Night 2

(Left to Right): Dr. Cliff L. Wood, President, Rockland Community College; Madelene Aponte, Assistant Director of Financial Aid, Rockland Community College; Yaritza Santana, Recruitment Specialist, Rockland Community College; Ileana Eckert, Superintendent, North Rockland Central School District; Dana Stilley, Associate Vice President of Student Services, Rockland Community College; Michael Greco, U.S. Marshal, Southern District of New York

The first speaker was Lucy Redzeposki, the daughter of Dominicans who fled their country in the early 1960s during a period of civil unrest/war. Her parents came to NYC speaking no English and having no jobs. The only job her father could find was as a superintendent in a tenement. Lucy’s home was a basement apartment with no windows. That is where she spent her childhood. Lucy told the award winners, “My story is your story, and for many of you, your story is my story.”  Her mother, who spoke no English, insisted that her children learn and speak correct Spanish at home, but learn and speak correct English outside the home, and that they work hard and be good students. Lucy said that while first grade was very difficult for her, she became a very good student. She was able to get a scholarship to Fordham University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree and later earned an MBA at Pace University.  Lucy’s mother did not work until Lucy went to college, and then she took a job in a factory at night so Lucy could attend Fordham. Education was important to Lucy’s mother, and I suspect that the parents of many of the students last week have a similar story.

Our other distinguished speaker was Michael Greco. He was named last year by President Barak Obama as the first Hispanic American to be the United States Marshall for the Southern District of New York. There are only 93 US Marshalls across the country. The first 13 US Marshalls were appointed by President George Washington, making the US Marshalls the first law enforcement agency in the country. Mike said his mother emigrated from Puerto Rico so her children could have access to a better education. He recalled that as a boy he wanted to be a police officer or a cowboy, so he was excited to learn that both Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp were US Marshalls, and that he was like them in being a proud wearer of the gold star, symbolizing the oath of office for the US Marshalls. Michael is a former NY State Police Officer and past President of the Hispanic Police Society of Rockland County, an individual who has been very involved in many community activities and has been honored for his service. As he told his story, he attributed his success to the support of his family, especially his mother, who valued education and hard work.

I am confident that in the future, many of our Hispanic Heritage honorees will have a story to tell to the nation. It is a story worth telling to all nations. The story is one of truth and light—that the American dream is still possible through education, perseverance and hard work.

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