Students challenged to make community better

ROCHESTER — The record number of Latino students recognized earlier this month during the 19th-annual Gala & Hispanic Scholarship Recognition Awards were repeatedly given a similar charge: Return to Rochester and make the community better.

"I challenge you to come back to this community when you’re done," said Hilda Rosario Escher, executive director and chief executive officer of Ibero-American Action League, which hosts the annual gala. "We need your talents and ideas."

More than 600 people attended the June 14 dinner at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, where 53 students were awarded scholarships from Ibero’s Hispanic Scholarship Endowment Fund, as well as from area colleges, community organizations, individuals and companies.

Members of the committee that awards the scholarships consider such criteria as standardized testing scores, grade-point averages, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation and a short essay about career goals, explained Grace Tillinghast, the scholarship committee chairwoman.

The sheer number of scholarships is a testament to the Latino students that they are not alone and the Rochester community stands with them, Thomas DiNapoli, New York state comptroller, said during a talk at the gala.

"If we are going to see success as a nation, the Latino community must be empowered and must be successful," he added. "There is still more work that needs to be done … but it all starts with education."

The community needs Latino students to succeed, concurred Anne Kress, president of Monroe Community College, during her keynote address.

In New York, 41 percent of all adults hold at least an associate’s degree, compared to 22 percent of Latinos. And 52 percent of white students earn four-year degrees within six years, while 32 percent of Latino students finish in that time frame, Kress said.

"That’s not enough," she said. "The folks in this room …. and the folks beyond this room want to help you succeed."

To help him reach his goals, David Duell, 18, received this year’s El Mensajero Católico scholarship, which was first presented in 2011. He said that he feels "honored" to have received it.

Upon graduation from Greece Arcadia High School, he plans to attend Jefferson Community College in Watertown and study accounting, Duell said.

The college also recruited him for the school’s baseball team, he said. Duell has been playing baseball since he was 5.

"I like the feeling of being on a team and having friends and being able to work together," he noted.

Unfortunately, his baseball career has been sidelined for a few months, as Duell tore the ACL in his knee during the last game of his school team’s season. He will have surgery this month and will finish his rehabilitation as he starts college life, Duell explained.

But he is just glad to be going to college, he said, which his parents have always encouraged. His father, Jeff, is a project manager at a local plastics company and his mother, Marylu, is a teacher.

College "is something that’s kind of needed … to put me in a better position to succeed in life," he added.

He also is grateful to his parents for adopting him and his younger sister, Vanessa, from Colombia. They were both brought here as babies, he said.

"They are my family," he said.

"We are very proud of him to have become a good student and a better person," his father said. "He is now at that point in life where you have to start figuring it all out. He doesn’t have to do it overnight, but we’ll be there to help him along the way."

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