Almost ten years ago I was approached by a few of our creative and spiritually sensitive enrollment people (Cary Templeton now Dean at Lassen Community College, Dina Gonzalez-Pena from our office of Spiritual Formation, and Jon Endicott at that time director of undergraduate admissions) about the need to serve students who were graduating from our public schools and could not go on to college. Dina and others (like Silvia Rojas now in Philadelphia, and Yami Gutierrez-Rodriguez) have kept this program going, mentored the students along with faculty members, and kept up with the students over the years as they have graduated.
These were undocumented students, many of whom had been living in the US since their earliest years, had gone through elementary and high school in the Valley, and at that time were ineligible for in-state tuition charges in the state university systems. This effectively eliminated their chance for higher education. They were caught in what I thought and think was an untenable situation. They were educated here, wanted to be US citizens, but the opportunity for higher education was being denied them, and thus their chances to be fully successful, to support themselves and their families, and to contribute at higher levels to our communities. They were and are often actively engaged in our churches, and were and are excellent students.
Our team proposed funding a couple of full scholarships for fully academically qualified students. Candidates had to be in the process of gaining legal status (and this qualified them to remain in the US). One of California’s interminable immigration debates was raging at the time, but we took it to the President and Chair of the Board, who approved it. It was a politically risky and bold move at the time. We found the funds (sometimes with the help of donors) and began the Samaritan Scholarship program.
It takes a while for this kind of program to bear fruit, but we are enjoying it now. Last week Dina invited me to a dinner with eleven of our former and current students. For the current students (and me) it was inspirational. For those who have gone on it was a chance to give back and inspire others. What really impressed me was the quality of the work they had done, their enthusiasm and hope, the work ethic they demonstrate, the deep commitment to service and Christian faith of many of them (even when I couldn’t follow the prayers in Spanish), the dreams they have for the future, and their gratitude to FPU.
Among them is a physcians assistant newly graduated from Duke University, one with a MS in industrial technology now going on for doctorate, one finishing an MS in physics and applying for doctoral programs (who wants to teach in a University), one entering an MBA program in the spring, one planning for a career in higher education, and current students anticipating careers in psychology, teaching, business, and accounting. I have had the privilege of having a number of these students in class. They have been among the more remarkable students I have had. What a privilege to be invited to spend the evening with them.