(article originally appeared in the Socorro Independent School District newsletter)
An author, who spoke to Ernesto Serna School’s eighth-graders about a family member’s rise to the high levels of the U.S. government, wants students to plan for their future and understand there are no barriers that cannot be overcome.
Dennis Garcia wrote “Marine, Public Servant, Kansan: The Life of Ernest Garcia” about his cousin, the grandson of Mexican immigrant field laborers, who went from a being a poor student in elementary and high school to become the first Hispanic sergeant of arms for the United States Senate. Ernest Garcia escorted President Ronald Reagan to the podium to deliver the State of the Union address in 1986.
Ernest Garcia rose to be a lieutenant colonel in the Marines before retiring, traveled around the world, met with Pope John Paul, and worked with many prominent politicians.
“I wanted to relay the inspiring and amazing story of my cousin’s life and his experiences,” Dennis Garcia said. “I am using those experiences to encourage and inspire students to put forth an effort and improve their efforts to concentrate on their studies. Even though they are just in the eighth grade, I wanted to let them know they are just starting and they have to work hard.”
Ernesto Serna School Principal Alejandro Olvera wanted his students to learn from an author with an inspiring story to tell.
“We never had the honor and the privilege of having a published author at our campus, I think, especially for the middle school kids,” Olvera said. “So, I thought this was a good opportunity for them. For them, it really changes the way they think. It’s not just coming from the teacher or principal. It’s coming from somebody that has lived life. Somebody that knows of other people’s struggles and the importance of school.”
Ernesto Serna was the first school on Dennis Garcia’s book tour. He also had a book signing at a Las Cruces Barnes & Noble that same day.
“I chose El Paso because my family’s roots and their ultimate success went through El Paso,” Garcia said. “This was their first step in the United States. My great grandfather is buried in Concordia Cemetery. I thought this would be a good place to begin trying to build inspiration with the book and encouragement with the kids.”
Olvera loved the immigrant story and the struggles Ernie Garcia overcame. How the Kansas-native didn’t prioritize school, disregarded his grades and almost missed his opportunity for success. He wanted students to understand the endless opportunities afforded to them at school.
“His message is very loud and clear,” Olvera said. “He basically told our eighth graders ‘you’re going to be in high school so prioritize your school work because you will open all these opportunities for your life. Start now. You have to work hard. You have to be dedicated and never give up. You need to take advantage, so that you can have those opportunities as you go through high school and college.’ I think it really makes our kids think and process the importance of planning now. How your day of instruction and your goal setting starts today.”
English Language Arts and Reading teacher Monica Elizondo agreed. She wanted her students to learn to value their education and for the story to, especially, reach those youngsters that don’t like school or claimed to not like it.
“At first, the students were shocked,” Elizondo said. “I tried my best to read their faces to no avail. They were very quiet even throughout the day, or so I thought, but my colleagues later informed me that the students enjoyed the presentation and talked about it amongst themselves and to the rest of their eighth-grade class. Mr. Olvera also informed me that Mr. Garcia’s presentation had been the topic of conversation during lunch. I always emphasize to my students the value of an education but hearing it from someone who they have never met and who has published a book made a huge impact.”
Eighth grader, Alan Pinal, who earned a free autographed book from Garcia for answering history questions, got the message. He was fascinated with the lecture and hopes to be either a police officer or lawyer.
“I liked that his cousin was able to meet so many famous people like President Reagan,” Pinal said. “I know I have to work hard to get my dreams. I know I can’t slack off and also have too much fun in high school.”
His classmate, Miguel Montoya, said listening to Garcia tell his cousin’s story was amazing.
“It made me think,” Montoya said. “I really want to be a doctor. I’m going to pass all my grades and keep going. I am never giving up.”
It was because students like those eighth-graders that Dennis Garcia decided to write the book about his cousin, Ernest Garcia.
“As a teacher, I wanted to make a difference and change the situation that many students are in right now,” Garcia said. “I was there, so I wanted them to see first-hand they, too, can be successful. This is one formula for what they want to achieve in life. They can follow it or choose their own.”