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Speakers Inspire Future Spartans

Children attend the college day event

More than a hundred elementary, middle, and high school students from throughout Santa Clara County gathered at SJSU Sept. 27 for the College Day 2012 kickoff (Jessica Olthof photo).

More than a hundred elementary, middle, and high school students from throughout Santa Clara County gathered at SJSU Sept. 27 to hear from a variety of speakers about their college experiences, kicking off College Day 2012.

“By sharing the diverse education paths of some of our top leaders in the community with many first generation students, we hope to inspire them to design a path to college for themselves,” said Kim Guptill, College Day Chair.

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Where Every Day is College Day

The crowd itself was an inspiration. Among the young people in attendance were over 30 Overfelt High School students, including 20 juniors, enrolled in their second year of calculus, a huge achievement for college-bound students, especially those from what is perceived to be a tough neighborhood.

“We like to say every day is College Day,” said Overfelt Principal Vito Chiala, noting that offering Calculus II on a high school campus where most students qualify for free and subsidized lunches shows that young people everywhere can achieve.

Overfelt Calculus II student Crystal Soto urged the crowd to accept help from teachers, as she did many years ago when a middle school instructor realized the “class clown” also had potential to become a “hardworking student.”

“She made me feel like a person rather than a student,” Crystal recalled. “She got me to want to go to college, and helped me come up with a plan.”

“The Future is in Your Hands”

Mark L. Walker, managing director, Global Community Affairs, Applied Materials Foundation, the event’s premier sponsor, shared with the young people in the crowd that like many of them, he was a first-generation college student.

“College really made me into who I am today,” he said. He urged students to get involved, recalling how “he learned all sorts of leadership skills” as a college newspaper business manager and fraternity president.

He reminded the crowd that Silicon Valley remains one of the best places in the world for a college graduate, with one percent unemployment in leading fields such as electrical engineering.

Walker recalled he started out in life dreaming of playing for the NFL, and then later deciding he would emulate TV lawyers before taking his first business class in college.

“The future is in your hands today,” he said. “Knowing what you want to do is probably less important than knowing that you want to go to college.”

“Achieving Something More”

Sam Liccardo, the San Jose council member representing downtown including SJSU, recalled that as a second-generation college student, “it was never a question in my mind that I would attend college.”

He went on to graduate from Georgetown University. But one of the greatest lessons he learned came from his grandfather, who dropped out of middle school.

When Sam came home with the news that he was admitted to Harvard Law School, his grandfather asked, “Sam, you’re not going to become one of those elites, are you?”

Sam explained to the young people in the crowd, many of whom would be first in their families to attend college, “you need to understand, you are achieving something more, not becoming something different.”

Liccardo went on to devote his life to public service, working as a prosecutor of sexual assault and child exploitation crimes in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office before running for public office.

“The Same Level of Success”

“Achieving something more, not becoming something different,” was also on the mind of Limbergh Arceo, the second Calculus II Overfelt student to address the crowd.

Although his childhood was challenging, his mother “always encouraged me” to do well in school. So he hit the books and even considered attending a college prep private high school.

But after taking summer classes at the private school, he decided to stick with Overfelt, which he argues offers even more rigorous academics.

He added he was dressed casually although he was a College Day kick-off speaker to bring home the point that it is not what you look like or where you are from that counts.

“We are just as smart as the other students, and can achieve the same level of success,” he said.