More than 100 high school students, parents and members of the AU community gathered at eighth annual Latino Youth Conference (LYC), hosted by the Latino and American Student Organization (LASO).
LASO has been put on the LYC with the goal of promoting higher education, leadership, community involvement and a positive Latino identity, according to conference material. Carrying a tagline of “Celebrating our past and preparing for our future,” the LYC invites high school students from the Washington Metropolitan area to learn about the college experience through workshops and a peer mentorship program, according to the conference brochure.
Gail Hanson, vice president of Campus Life and a first generation college student herself, gave words of welcome to conference participants that set a tone later followed by Salcido’s keynote address.
“It feels good to hear you scream,” Salcido said as she took the podium greeted with clapping and cheering.
Salcido, who immigrated to America from Mexico when she was 15 to work the fields with her parents, learned English and went on to graduate college in California and earn her masters degree from Harvard.
“I decided I had to go to Harvard. The end, period,” she said. “It was really hard, but I knew I had to do it.”
After receiving her masters in education, administration, and social planning, she is now the founder and Chief Executive Office of Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy, one of the leading schools in the D.C. area with 100 percent of graduating seniors being accepted into at least one college or university, according to an LYC publication.
Karleana Lahens, a senior at AU, served as logistics director for the conference this year and was extremely pleased with how it went.
“Having 120 students compared to 10 the first year it was held is amazing,” she said. “The conference has gained respect.”
Local schools now understand the value in the conference.
One year buses brought students from New Jersey to attend the conference, but “with time it’s gained such reputation; everyone wants to come,” Lahens said.
Workshop topics focus on how to get into college, how to pay for college, and why it’s important to go to college, according to Lahens.
“It’s teaching kids about college from students who are going through college now,” she said. “Each year it gets better and better.”
Motivated by the statistic of a twenty one percent drop out rate among Latino high school students, one goal of the conference is to provide students with leadership skills and the motivation to excel and succeed, according to conference material.
It was Salcido’s dream to give students better opportunities in education and life.
“Life without a dream is a very difficult life,” she said.
In her keynote address, Salcido shared with the audience three lessons she has learned: the importance of having dreams, the importance of working hard and the importance of having faith.
“You will not achieve your dream if you’re not willing to work hard,” she told the students. “Each one of you deserve the best possible education.”
Salcido related what a difference dedicated parents can make and what powerful historical figures like Cesar Chavez have provided the Latino community, which she said “all came because they wanted better opportunities.”
“It’s their dream that you have better opportunities than they did,” she said.
Priorities, Salcido said, are important and can be set in faith because it is “through faith you really learn to care for others.”
Salcido told of challenges she faced and conquered, including people not believing she could achieve her dreams. She encouraged students to “invest your time wisely” because “hard work does pay off.”