Andy spoke at the Summer Search New York City 2009 Spring Event. Here's what he had to say.
andy's story- Greatness
What makes a person great? In Mexico, the country where I grew up until I was 10, I didn’t see greatness. People worked in the fields and then came home day after day. I could see that people were surviving, but they were not happy and did not show pride in what they were doing. As for the young men, the messages were clear: men are supposed to just work hard and shut up…they are not supposed to cry or show feelings. That’s how I lived my life.
I had to grow up quickly. My mother knew life was a struggle and she worked hard to build a better one for our family by coming to the United States when I was eight. While my mother was here with my older brother, my sister and I lived in Mexico with our grandparents. My father, who had separated from our family when I was an infant, moved to the US and lost all contact with us. By the age of 8, I was taking care of myself and sister while my grandparents were at work. I was able to cook, wash clothes by hand, and use public transportation. I don’t know how I was able to do that at such a young age, especially since I now manage to get lost on our city subway.
Although I was grateful for my experience in Mexico it came with a price. I spent so much time acting like an adult that I didn’t have time to play or be with other kids. As I gradually took on more responsibility, I became more quiet and distant and eventually stopped being open to others.
By the time I moved to New York City at age 10, I was distant from everyone. I was happy to be with my mother and brother again, but to my surprise there was someone else in the picture…. my father. I didn’t realize how much I missed having a father until I was here. All I knew was that he gave me life so he was dad. I started to see my father weekly but I felt no connection towards him---so I basically didn’t talk to him. Three years later, he walked out on us again. I was angry at my father because I felt like he robbed me from having a dad like every other kid and he did it twice. Any chance we had to connect was gone along with him. I had to learn how to be a man on my own.
Even though my heart was aching, I knew that I had to be strong. I wanted badly to scream and tell the world my feelings, but that is not what I was taught to do. I was just too afraid to try because I did not want to be looked at as a weak person. After all, I wasn’t supposed to cry.
The closest thing I had to a father figure was my older brother. After always being a top student through his school career he suddenly decided to drop out of his senior year in high school. To me he was always on top, but in the blink of an eye, he had fallen. I was petrified that this could happen to me too. And it did. By middle school, I was acting out in all my classes so I had to attend summer school two years in a row. I became a prisoner of fear. I was afraid of being great because being great only meant I had a much longer way to fall. So, to avoid that fall, I decided not to climb.
Soon sophomore year came and I was introduced to Summer Search by my art teacher Joe Matunis who is in attendance today. Joe, thank you for always being there to support me. At first, I was skeptical because there was no way that a program would give me two trips one of which is a trip possibly out of the country for free. I mean c’mon who does that?!
But during my Summer Search interview, for some reason I let down my guard. I guess a part of me was always looking for someone to listen. I was able to speak about my father, my brother, my grades and my fall into isolation all at once. I no longer felt alone. Afterwards, I knew I could trust them and that this crazy opportunity was no joke.
Summer Search allows us to do things that we never thought of doing. On my first summer trip I went on a 21 day survival style Outward Bound trip to Duluth Minnesota. I hiked, rock climbed, and canoed. Even though it was perhaps the hardest thing I ever did, I would do it again in a heartbeat. No… I am not crazy! To all you sophomores in attendance tonight, no matter how hard it is or how angry you get out there, remember my words, especially that first week when you want to quit so bad —HANG ON, it will get better and it will change your life.
On my trip, the biggest lesson I learned was that risk taking and hard work is necessary to not only survive, but to thrive. I had to conquer my fear of heights and push myself every single day. My group mates who at first seemed so different than me were one on our trip. We motivated each other and worked together for the team. By the end, we had hiked and paddled for 139 miles with 50lbs backpacks. We all learned that being GREAT is a choice. It takes willpower that you have to find in yourself and not something you are just born with it.
Like many of you, I returned home from my trip on top of the world. But on top of feeling great I was also full of appreciation. I learned to value the people in my life. I realized that I do have a father figure – my mom. Like many parents here tonight, my mother has gone through so much and worked so hard. Mom, you are my inspiration. Will you please stand. I know that my mother is not alone. Will all of the parents in attendance please stand up? Students, let’s give our parents a big round of applause.
Before Summer Search, I held back from my own feelings and from people. Because everything was so bottled up, I couldn’t concentrate on important things like doing well in school. Instead of realizing what I was capable of, I became comfortable making excuses for myself. But Summer Search and the trip were an outlet to release those feelings. Today I am no longer afraid that I would be looked at as any less of a man if I shed a tear. I am also not afraid of the potential greatness in me.
I am proud to say that because of the support from Summer Search and my family I am not in danger of attending summer school ever again. In fact, I am an honor roll student. Instead this summer I am spending 21 days in China. Not bad, huh?
A few minutes ago, I asked what makes a person great. Everyone here might have a different answer. However for me and for each one of you, it means not being afraid of the person each one of us can become. It means being able to say what’s inside of you and taking responsibility for what you’ve done. It means not being afraid of falling.
The world is watching us… this summer and beyond, let’s show them our GREATNESS together!!!!!!!!!