Latinos United for College Education Scholarships (LUCES) hosted its third annual scholarship banquet at the Concourse Hotel on Friday, Aug. 23.
“On behalf of all of the organizers, I want to thank you all for coming tonight,” said Master of Ceremonies Mario Mendoza. “Tonight is essentially about two things. One, it's the acknowledgment of a challenge in the achievement gap and to challenge our entire community. Secondly, it's an opportunity to celebrate our culture and to celebrate our youth.”
Conquering the achievement gap was the main topic of the 2013 LUCES Third Annual Gala Event Scholarship Banquet that featured a host of speakers and was well attended.
“When compared to whites, Hispanics chances of dropping out of college are 30 percent higher,” said Pedro Albiter, LUCES founder and board president. “If these numbers continue, Hispanics will be less likely to secure the social and economic benefits associated with a college degree.
“For LUCES, in our communities of color, closing the achievement gap isn't and shouldn't be just a one-time affair,” Albiter continued. “Our action plan for closing the achievement gap is to address unequal education in different areas like system-wide low expectations, low graduation rates, low access to higher education.”
LUCES is a nonprofit organization that works to ensure bright futures for young Latinos in Wisconsin by providing several merit- and need-based scholarships. Their annual scholarship banquet is one of their signature events. Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham was one of the featured speakers at the event.
“I want to thank LUCES for the incredible work that they do,” Cheatham told the crowd. “It's important because what you are doing as an organization is helping us to remove the barriers that often stand in the way of our students' success. We all need to learn from you; we all need to do the same.”
Cheatham said that her vision is for every one of Madison's schools to be a thriving school where students and teachers are thriving equally. “We want to prepare students to graduate high school-, college-, and community-ready ... meaning that they are ready to participate in the diverse community we have in Madison. We want all of our students to experience the kind of success that we are witnessing tonight.”
Cheatham said that she is going to set the bar high and to expect the best out of all of the MMSD students. “High expectations are critical if we're going to get the job done, so we are all going to have to expect the very best of ourselves and each other,” she said. “I hope that you all will hold me to those same high standards.
“Congratulations to you all,” she added, focusing on the students in the audience. “The outstanding students we have here tonight represent what we want from each and every one of our students. We have an exciting year ahead of us and I'm looking forward to working with all of you in the years to come.”
The banquet program featured performances by Brisas del Peru, Dando Mambo, and Ballet Folklorico de Maria Avila, before the focus returned to the students.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight LUCES will be recognizing six great and talented Latino students selected by a scholarship committee based upon their academic achievement, community service, and economic barriers,” Albiter said. “Five of them will be attending Madison College. One will be going to Edgewood College. These students represent our future and will become our future leaders if we help and guide them through and make sure that they finish college.”
LUCES recognized Latino scholars for the academic achievement and community service through scholarships sponsored by local business. Scholarship presenters and recipients were as follows:
• Sara and Carlos Alvarado, owners of Alvarado Real Estate presented a scholarship to Alan Canacso Rubio of Madison College
• Julia Arata-Fratta, board president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce, presented a scholarship to Rocio Miranda Solis of Madison College. She also presented the Fratta Family Scholarship to Maria Guadalupe Avina Hernandez of Madison College
• Salvador Carranza, president of the Latino Education Council, presented a scholarship to Daniela Rosas Mora of Madison College
• Steve Goldberg, executive director of the CUNA Mutual Foundation, presented a scholarship to Marcelina Martinez-Robles of Edgewood College
• Jade Alegre and Michelle Nava, LUCES board directors, presented a scholarship to Miriam Paz of Madison College
The keynote speaker for the event was Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.
“It's an honor to be here tonight to speak to the community and to a group of people who are so committed to providing opportunity for our young people,” Parisi said. “I think all of us in this room would agree that we as individuals — and as a community — have responsibility to provide access to opportunity to the generation that follows us. That's certainly what our community has done for me.”
Parisi explained that he went from a high school drop out to university graduate to member of the Wisconsin State Legislature. “And today I have the honor of serving as your county executive,” he said. “The only reason I was able to do this is because the community had my back. My community cared about my future and was there when I needed it most. And, for that, I will be forever grateful.”
Parisi said that we live in a community that is experiencing a rapid growth in diversity. “We've experienced some growing pains, but we also learning much along the way,” Parisi said. “Most importantly, our diversity presents us with a chance to see our differences as opportunities — opportunities to learn from each other, to grow together, to better understand the world around us, and to make an even bigger difference in people's life.
“While our community is many different people, we are also one — one larger community,” Parisi continued. “We are a community whose members have much to give and much to learn from each other. We're a community whose members have the opportunity to grow great strength from each other. Most importantly, we are a community with an opportunity to make sure that every young person has a path and access to a successful future. That success .... that access to opportunity ... begins and ends on eliminating the achievement gap in our schools.”
Parisi turned to the scholarship winners and told them that success is best measured by the pursuit of your passions, by the lives you touch, friends you make, and the difference you are able to make in other people's lives. “Along the way, you'll have some successes and you'll make some mistakes,” Parisi said. “We all do. But don't be discouraged or dissuaded by the inevitable stumbles or temporary roadblocks that we all experience. Rather, learn from your mistakes, because your mistakes can be your greatest teachers. The lessons that they provide us can lead us to greater successes than we can ever imagine. So dream big and never let anybody tell you that you can't.”
After Parisi's speech, Grupo Candela took to the stage and kept people dancing well into the night.