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CHCI CEO's Despedida Commencement Address at Georgetown University


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Esther Aquilera, President & CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, delivers an inspiring address to Georgetown University's graduating Latino class of 2013.
She called upon them to seize the opportunity as the future success of the United States relies on their success. This is Latino's time to ensure a strong America for us all.
Delivered on Thursday, May 16, 2013 in historic Gaston Hall. For more information, please visit

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CHCI CEO's Despedida Commencement Address at Georgetown University

  1. 1. Developing the Next Generation of Latino Leaders®OUR TIME:A Strong America
  2. 2. Despedida Chicano/LatinoCommencement CeremonyGeorgetown UniversityThursday, May 16, 2013Esther AguileraPresident & CEO, CHCI
  3. 3. It is an honor to be on the campus of historic GeorgetownUniversity. Thank you Kevin for the kind introduction. Toyou, Anthony and the entire committee, thank you forincluding me you your Despedida Chicano/Latinocommencement send-off ceremony. To the University leadership, Provost Bob Graves, Dean ofStudent Life Todd Olson and so many others, thank youfor supporting this important ceremony. Today is a proud day. I am proud of youraccomplishment. Dorothy Height, a key figure in the civilrights movement said, “No one will do for you what youneed to do for yourself.” You all have taken charge ofyour trajectory in life.
  4. 4. It is a proud day to be Latino. Not only for the 45graduates here this evening and all their familymembers, but for the more than 52 million U.S. Latinosand a proud day for the nation. You are a different person today than when you steppedfoot on this campus, for many of you, four years ago. Youhave benefited from being located in the nation’s capital– the center of power. This is the city I have called home for more than 22 years.The common thread of my professional career has beento advance the Latino community and open the doors ofopportunity.
  5. 5. I moved here at your age, soon after graduating fromOccidental College in Los Angeles. I was raised in SanFernando, California. [Let’s not do the math on my age – Iam still your age at heart!] I studied public policy in college and landed my first jobwith the National Council of La Raza – I moved to theopposite end of the country from where I grew up. From there, I assumed the role of executive director of theCongressional Hispanic Caucus, working with the Latinomembers of Congress on the Latino legislative agenda. I was appointed to serve as senior advisor to EnergySecretary Bill Richardson. Prior to joining CHCI, I workedfor the Dewey Square group on strategic policy andlegislative initiatives for Fortune 100 companies and topassociations.
  6. 6. For the last eight years, I have led the growth strategy forCHCI, a high-performing and impactful national nonprofitorganization. In this role and many past roles, I havebeen privileged to work with the top leaders from everysector, from members of Congress to top executives incorporate America, and labor unions. I have met severalUS Presidents, Cabinet Members and worked with topofficials. Now, my path to these roles was not an obvious one. Iam an immigrant and child of farmers and ranchers – hijade campesinos. I was born in rural, northernJalisco, Mexico. My family moved to the United Stateswhen I was four along with my five brothers and sisters.We were undocumented – we moved here to reunite thefamily.
  7. 7. My father worked as a landscape laborer. At our dinnertable, we did not have conversations about politics orreceive advice on education and career. My parents focusedon providing for the family. They sacrificed a great deal sothat we could one day advance. My eldest sister was valedictorian of her high school classand undocumented when she was applying to colleges. Shewas lucky that our immigration paperwork was finallyapproved after a 10-year struggle. We all advanced toattend college. My story is like that of many of yours, or your parents.Dorothy Height also said, “Greatness is not measured bywhat you accomplish, but by the opposition [you]overcome.” Your parents or grandparents strived for a betterlife so that you would have the opportunity to strive forgreatness.
  8. 8. In that path, remember to be grounded. “As we moveforward, let us also look back…” (Dorothy Height). Honoryour heritage and history with all if its humility, hardshipand glory. The glory of reaching this day – a proud day. I have seen a lot in the 22 years here in Washington, D.C. –some positive change for the Latino community, and somethings that remain the same. One thing is certain today. You represent the hopes, dreamsand aspirations of your family, community and the nation.Let me tell you why. You represent the dreams and aspirations of your family.You have overcome obstacles to get here. Your parentssacrificed a great deal – as with my dad, he proudly cut grassand dug ditches to plant trees… So that I would not follow inhis footsteps.
  9. 9. You represent the dreams and aspirations of yourcommunity. Many people have fought for a freeeducation, the right to vote, and promote the best ideals ofthe United States, always advancing a more perfect union. Latinos faced segregated schools and signs that read “NoMexicans or dogs allowed”. We continue to face negativestereotypes, like we are all immigrants who arrivedyesterday. You represent the dreams and aspirations of your country.Latinos today will be prominent players in all aspects ofsociety. Latinos are increasing in population share whileother minority groups are decreasing or staying the same.
  10. 10. We are over 50 million strong. We represent one in sixAmericans and one of every three children. And it isimportant to note that 9 out of 10 Latino children in theUnited States are born here. We are the current and futurecustomers, employees, employers, entrepreneurs, andleaders. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hispanics areprojected to account for 74 percent of the growth in thenations labor force from 2010 to 2020, a much higher ratethan in the previous two decades. Hispanic purchasing power is closeto $1.5 trillion, equivalent to the 12th largest economy inthe world.
  11. 11. If you think we had an impact on this last presidentialelection with over 11 million voters, wait until you see whathappens over the next few election cycles. You haven’t seenanything yet! More than 50,000 Latinos turn 18 each month and areeligible to vote. According to the 2012 Nielsen report, Hispanics are thecornerstone of future growth. The strength of the UnitedStates is tied to the success of the Latino population. Weare all in it together. 22 years ago, when I moved to DC, we were half the size.The America you live in today and will lead tomorrow is verydifferent from the one I grew up in. We can no longer feelor act like a minor segment of society.
  12. 12. With greater numbers comes greater responsibility. Weneed to prepare ourselves for positions of leadership on ourchosen fields. My vision for you is that we stop talking about breaking theglass ceiling. In our hands, we hold the power to shape not only our ownbut the nation’s future. Dorothy Height said these samewords to minority men and women in the 60’s. This is ourreality today. Our power and influence only truly exist if we choose to beinvolved, exercise our right to vote that many fought for, andprepare ourselves as leaders. That is where all of you come in.
  13. 13. I don’t want to put too much pressure on yourshoulders, but the world you all step out into as yougraduate from college needs you and it will help yousucceed if you help yourself. Nothing will be given to you; you will need to earn it. Strivefor excellence and use today as your launching pad to dreambig. So now you begin your journey in becoming the leaders youwere born to be. As you carry the torch for your family, for your communityand ultimately for the nation, you must look behind you andpull up those that are looking for the opportunities that youhad.
  14. 14. THIS IS OUR TIME. Latinos have been leading the way andmaking great contributions at every stage – the city of SantaFe was founded over 500 years, and this year Floridacelebrates its Quincentennial – both are older thanJamestown. Latinos have fought and been decorated inevery war, from the civil war to the Iraq and Afgan battles. THIS IS YOUR TIME. The next few decades we will see more HispanicCEOs, Hispanic elected officials, and University Presidents. And finally, you will elect the first Hispanic president of theUnited States, perhaps one of you in this room. Any success we have as a nation moving forward will be ingreat part due to your own success.
  15. 15. I am passionate about my work as CHCI because I know thedifference it makes to open a door through internships andfellowships. In 2004, my first year, we served 93 students directly. Overthe past two years, I’m proud to say we now average 1600students per year. So being here today is an extension of the passion I have forseeing the Latino community grow in strength andinfluence. It has been a special honor to speak to you here this eveningand I know you all embrace the hopes and aspirations ofyour family, community, and nation.
  16. 16. Know that we are all very proud of you, we love you, we willbe here for you, and we will be watching you!! Thank you and have a great evening.
  17. 17. OUR TIME: A Strong