There are thousands of students in Miami-Dade County that are forced to live in the shadows: bright, talented students whose legal status in the United States prevents them from realizing their dreams. As educators, we often only hear these stories at the end of the school year – if at all — when graduation is upon us, and it is too late for us to help. Too often these kids remain silent and afraid, because there is so much on the line.
This year, I met one such young man.
Giancarlo Tejeda arrived in the United States when he was three years old. His parents fled their native Colombia, escaping the bloody turmoil at home, to provide their children with the opportunity to grow up free from the fear of repression and violence.
It’s a story that is very American. All of us are here because we searched for freedom. Unfortunately, Giancarlo and his family are undocumented immigrants. For his entire academic career, he has kept this secret, concerned that if people knew, his family’s safety would be in jeopardy. So he and his family have lived with the constant fear and anxiety of being discovered. They’ve worked hard at whatever work was available and possible, who now had to face the reality of starting anew in a foreign land. Many young people face these challenges, and although their legal status and the need for reform may be controversial, the trouble they face is indisputable.
You would never guess at Giancarlo’s struggles by looking at him or observing his behavior in school. He is a fantastic student, excelling academically and socially. He is graduating magna cum laude, in the 92nd percentile of his class, and has — throughout his time at MLEC — won various awards in competitions ranging from programming and engineering to science and technology.
He never told anyone about his immigration status, not his friends or favorite teachers, not his school counselor, not even the schools to which he applied. He never complained. He never asked for help or for sympathy. He always wanted to be held to the same high standards as everyone else.
I just learned of his situation and felt that I had to help. Giancarlo was accepted to New York University and the University of Florida. NYU is not offering him any financial assistance because they consider him an international student, ineligible for financial aid. This is yet another obstacle. He cannot apply for federal aid or student loans. He is worried that his dream, which is so close that he can almost touch it, may be forever out of reach.
I look at Giancarlo and see a talented young man with a long resume of academic success. He had the brilliance and steadfast tenacity to learn and grow and excel. Imagine what more he could have done with just a few more resources. Imagine if the fear of discovery had not been a heavy presence in his home. Now imagine what he will do and what he will accomplish with a college education and what an impact he can make on the world.
There are far too many students like Giancarlo in Miami-Dade, too many children that have grown up here, that don’t know any other home. We have already educated and cared for these children in our public schools and in our communities. Why not give them the opportunity to come out of the shadows and give back to the only neighborhoods they’ve ever known?
To help Giancarlo achieve his dreams, visit his crowd-funding site: http://www.gofundme.com/rb6p5dtg?pc2
Watch his interview with CBS4 : http://cbsloc.al/1CtekSi