By Corpus Christi Caller-Times
The story of 2018 Ray High School valedictorian Juan De La Garza is more than inspirational. It’s an example of the value of immigration, a reminder of what’s in it for us.
Juan’s father is a welder and his mother is a health care provider. In Mexico, dad was an agricultural engineer and mom was an accountant. They came here, two non-English speakers, and took lesser jobs so that the son they would have someday and name “Juan” could have more opportunity than they thought he would have in Tamaulipas.
Juan says he learned English — and at the same time discovered that he needed to learn English — at school as a youngster. Imagine starting school not knowing the language spoken at school. Juan didn’t have to imagine it, nor do other children of immigrants whose primary language is not English. Most children don’t face the language-barrier challenge Juan faced when he started school. But because we are a nation of immigrants, Juan’s accomplishment in mastering English, though impressive, isn’t really all that unusual. It’s happening in our schools and has been happening for generations.
Turning out to be a valedictorian makes Juan’s story unique. All valedictorians are exceptional, whether their parents are immigrants or their great-great-grandparents built the school. Valedictorians in larger schools like Ray, with its graduating class of 490 and its highly competitive International Baccalaureate program, are even more exceptional. In addition to being No. 1 among 490, Juan also was one of two — count ‘em, two — 2017 Caller-Times/Citgo South Texas Distinguished Scholars in the General Academics category and received a $1,000 scholarship. But the story of how Juan got here makes him exceptional even among the exceptional.
Juan intends to major in mechanical engineering at Rice University, start his own company and pursue new, innovative technologies. Considering what he has accomplished, that’s not some farfetched child’s daydream.
No telling what Juan will do someday for his native and his parents’ adopted country, and for himself. He and his hard-working parents are another country’s loss and our gain. It’s how this nation was built and what made it great.