Mountain View Voice

News - July 5, 2013

Vargas gives De Anza grads advice, challenge

by Elize Manoukian

A new generation of De Anza College graduates were welcomed by keynote speaker Jose Antonio Vargas amidst Saturday morning's sweltering heat.

Among the class of 2013's approximately 1,900 graduates, about 1,300 were receiving degrees and 500 earning certificates in career fields. Two students, Angelica Esquivel and Shaila Ramos, were awarded the President's Award scholarship by college President Brian Murphy in recognition of their perseverance and diligence at De Anza College.

Vargas, who is now a high-profile advocate for immigration reform, singled out Esquivel and Ramos, both Dream Act students, for their roles as prominent campus activists for immigration reform. Immigration is the subject of much of Vargas' work as a journalist and documentary filmmaker, especially since Vargas revealed his own undocumented status in a June 2011 essay for The New York Times Magazine.

Vargas balanced advice for the graduates with stories of his own experiences, recounting his move from the Philippines to Mountain View in 1993. Vargas recalled his first American memories: of the knee-bashing attack on ice skater Nancy Kerrigan; the OJ Simpson trial; and Seinfeld. "I thought everybody was Jewish," he quipped.

His focus shifted four years later, when he was turned away at the DMV after trying to obtain a driver's license. A conversation with his uncle revealed what he hadn't known: he was living in his new homeland illegally.

Thanks to an extensive support system of family and educators, Vargas was able to build a career as a successful journalist, eventually winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his work covering the Virginia Tech massacre for the Washington Post. Vargas said he recognizes the irony of enjoying this professional status in America while still lacking technical status through documentation. This conflict motivated his decision to join what he referred to as "this growing movement of Americans 'coming out' (as undocumented)."

Vargas received cheers when he called community colleges the "under-appreciated backbone of America's higher education system" and parted with the students by encouraging them to take neither citizenship nor change for granted.

"Don't get comfortable," Vargas said. "Don't settle. Don't be a part of the institution. Become your own institution."

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