2nd Generation NHIers: Four Profiles
Over the past few years, NHI’s reached a subtle yet significant milestone that speaks to the organization’s growth and resilience: The children of the first generation of NHI alumni are now becoming alumni themselves. This past summer, a number of second-generation NHI students embarked on programs, traveling from California to Panama to capture the perspective and the leadership skills that their parents utilized in their own lives. We caught up with four of them – Austin’s Emma Lopez, Dallas’s George Nicholas Rodriguez, the Bay Area’s Julian Garcia, and Chicagoland’s Luis Jauregui – to learn about their experiences this past summer.
At the California LDZ this past summer at the University of San Diego, Julian Garcia originally had his sights set on becoming a Supreme Court Justice. When he didn’t get the votes to secure that position, he opted to become a member of the House of Representatives – which he saw as a harder route toward his ultimate goal of securing a spot at Celebracion.
However, he was chosen by his peers as Most Persuasive Representative for the session, which meant he’d indeed earned his coveted ticket to Dallas – along with a trophy that particularly pleased one person in his household.
“When he came home with the trophy, I told him, ‘Wow! You won an Ernie!” said J.P. Garcia, Julian’s father, a graduate of the inaugural 1983 Texas LDZ program, who won his own “Ernie” as Most Outstanding Male Senator for that program.
While Julian is no stranger to LDZ – he attended as a one-year-old when his father helped run a program – he doesn’t have memories of being there, and was ultimately inspired to experience LDZ by a friend who’d attended the 2014 California LDZ and raved about his week there. “I really wanted to see if for myself. I didn’t want it to just see it from a bunch of pictures.” And, as you might expect, his dad was advocating for him to participate, to capture the same sort of connectedness he had found more than 30 years ago.
Despite the initial challenges of the program – he remembers arriving and then “being thrown in a big room with 150 people from all over, where you just have to figure it out” – the frustration gave way to the diverse group coming together and coalescing. Receiving the award from his peers was surprising and incredible for Julian; he recalls being “flooded with emotion” when he won.
While his father was thrilled to be able to admire his and his son’s trophies side by side, he knows that Julian’s got more work and more growth in front of him now that he’s had the LDZ experience.
“I think the expectations I have is that this is just one step in his development,” J.P. said. One program won’t make a person, but this one program will set in motion a particular set of fundamentals, of thinking about life, and friendship, and community, and belonging. I’m sure he’ll continue to be involved in NHI in the near future, and in the future when he goes to college, he’ll build more bonds with other kids that have had similar NHI experiences.”
Given that J.P.’s computer and cybersecurity consulting work often places him in collaboration with other NHI alumni, he knows first-hand the value of working from that shared perspective.
Julian, currently a 16-year-old junior at Menlo School in Atherton, Calif., and looking toward business studies with a focus on entrepreneurship, will indeed take the next step with NHI, with plans to enroll in a 2016 CWS program to help set his dreams of entrepreneurship in motion.
Luis Jauregui began his NHI career in 2012 with the Midwest Great Debate at Augustana College – an experience so life-changing that not only did he continue on with other NHI programs, he decided upon a career based on the experience (as a lawyer, because he loved his cross-examination competition so much) and his college (Augustana, where he’s now a freshman double-majoring in pre-law and Spanish).
“NHI allowed me to discover who am I as well as who I wanted to be,” said Luis. “It helped me learn that I have a voice in society. In school, before I went through my first NHI program, I wasn’t necessarily shy, but it someone tried to argue a point in a group discussion that I disagreed with, I would let someone else take charge.”
Since first coming to NHI, and finding his voice, Luis attended the 2013 National LDZ at Elmhurst College, the 2014 International CWS at the University of Tampa, a pair of Celebracions in 2012 and 2014, and last year, after graduating from Argo Community High School in CITY, he returned to each of his three former programs as a staff member.
At LDZ, he was the first Representative to pass a bill through a House that rejected literally scores of others. That experience had immediate payoff for him – he claims that he took a government class immediately after that program, and “got an A+ without having to study” – though, more seriously, he understands flaws within our system of government that is motivating him to potentially seek public office one day. (Or, as he puts it, “It makes me want to go and in and fix issues.”)
Luis’ father Arturo, who attended the 1991 LDZ at the University of Iowa and has since had involvement with NHI in a volunteer role, remembers lessons on leadership and scholarship from that program which still influence his current focus on education, as a teacher in the Chicago public school system. He notes that although he made Luis aware of NHI, he’s surprised just how much his son has taken to the program – even after graduating from high school.
CWS might have been the most important of the three programs for Luis. While Celebracion prepared Luis for the inquiry-based learning featured in the CWS program, he noted that “not having a rulebook” and “our senior mentors expecting us to learn on our own” made the program especially challenging, yet especially rewarding. It was also at CWS that Luis met an Augustana representative, expressed his profound interest in attending the school, and started the process by which he garnered funding to help him attend.
“I’m at,” he said proudly, “the college of my dreams.”
Emma Lopez had heard that her first NHI program — the Texas Great Debate – would be life-changing. At first, upon coming home from Sherman, she definitely thought it was fun, but questioned going as far as saying it was life-changing. Then, a year later, she realized just how much her life had changed.
“I realize now how different I’d become in the just the year since,” she said. “There were all these friendships that I made that are continuing. And a year ago, I was relatively opinionated but would just keep that to myself. But now I feel like my thoughts are important, that people will be interested in what I say. I wouldn’t say I’m more extroverted, but I definitely express my opinions more now.”
This past summer, Emma ventured to San Diego to be part of the California LDZ program at the University of San Diego – in part to expand her circle of NHI friends beyond Texas, and in part to visit a part of the world she’d not yet seen. Again, she was told the program would be life-changing, and again she didn’t feel it right away. “But it really hit me on the last day, how hard it was to say goodbye to these people I’d spent the week with.”
As parliamentarian in the House of Representatives, she was attuned to the legislative process throughout. Though several bills she advocated for did pass, she found it valuable to see how the process unfolded for bills that didn’t pass as well as those that found enough support to become law. She especially remembers the impression her dorm roommate made on her, when she struggled and then eventually succeeded to craft the speech to persuade the House to adopt her bill. In particular, she understood the value of supporting other representatives’ ideas – recognizing “there are still other proposals to believe and fight for, even if they’re not ours.”
Emma understands what her father – NHI board member John F. Lopez, namesake of the John F. Lopez Fellowships for NHI college students – saw in the program when he ventured to the first-ever Texas LDZ in 1983. “At LDZ, I was surrounded by smart, driven, energetic kids, and it was contagious. Every time I left a program, and even now, when I leave a board meeting, I leave feeling like everything is possible.”
Emma, now a 16-year-old junior at Bowie High School in Austin, is planning on attending the Northeast CWS next summer to further the inquiry-based learning she’s run across at Celebracion. Though she’s leaning toward an out-of-state college and is contemplating medical and liberal art studies, she feels that CWS might provide her some helpful perspective. Possibly even, given her track record with NHI so far, a life-changing one.
George Nicholas Rodriguez
As the son of two of NHI’s most dedicated alumni – board chair Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez and George Rodriguez – George Nicholas Rodriguez (along with his sister Bella) has been attending LDZ programs literally all his life, taking in NHI through the years as his parents would serve as Education Director or in other key roles for family trips that lasted as long as ten days a stretch. Both children have even been enlisted as junior counselors (and quite able ones, at that) to help facilitate in programs well before they were age-eligible to participate as students.
When it came time for George Nicholas to attend an LDZ, Michelle was concerned. Since her son had long since learned the secret of the reveal at the heart of the LDZ experience, she was worried the program might not have the same impact than if he’d grown up in a family that wasn’t so accustomed to running LDZs.
But George Nicholas was able to challenge himself – and in his mother’s words, was able to “find his own magic” – by traveling to Panama for the LDZ Las Americas program this past summer. Because he’s not yet fully bilingual, the emphasis on Spanish proved a bit challenging. But the real challenge for George Nicholas was to let go of his inclinations to “fly solo.”
“The thing with me is that I love to be individual,” he assessed. “But depending on others is not a bad thing. It can help to rely on other people, especially in terms of this program.”
As a Senator, George Nicholas had two bills passed by both the House and the Senate, but neither of them became law, as the Governor vetoed one and merely did not sign the other. While he’d drummed up support for his ideas, he didn’t have the 2/3 majority necessary to override the veto. Despite that setback, he characterizes his experience in Panama as incredible, especially in getting to interact with native Panamanians when away from the legislature.
George Nicholas also attended CWS this past summer at the University of North Texas, an experience he described as “short and exhausting,” but one that helped him prepare for a college experience in which he’ll study filmmaking, or psychology, or perhaps both, at one of six Catholic universities on his wish list.
He expects, following in his family’s tradition, to be involved with NHI programs in the future, and to continue following his own piece of advice for first-time NHIers. “Don’t be afraid to get out and meet people,” he said. “The connections you make will be well worth it.”