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Here in the the CEHD Office of Student and Academic Affairs we are fortunate to work with some truly inspiring people.  One of them is our Student Engagement Coordinator, Brandon Quiles.  Brandon was the keynote speaker on October 10 at Mason’s 17th Annual Alcanza College Fair. Mason hosts Alcanza as part of our effort to inform the Latino high school student population in the Washington, DC metropolitan area about their higher educational opportunities and to encourage them to pursue their education beyond high school.  We think Brandon’s speech holds a powerful message, not just for Latino youth, but for all of us.  We hope you find it as powerful as we do.

Brandon Quiles, Student Engagement Coordinator, College of Education and Human Development.

Good Morning! Buenos Dias, mi gente. I’d like to start off by thanking the admissions office for allowing me to speak with you all today. My name is Brandon Quiles and it has been a long and rewarding journey to become the man who is standing before you.

I wanted to start off with telling you a little about myself and my journey. Some of you may relate and some of you won’t and that’s okay. Towards the end I will leave you with a little advice that you all will be able to take with you on your journeys.

But here are some facts about myself:

I am 25 years old and my nickname is BQ.

I am right handed, I don’t do dairy, I love to dance, I hate waiting at red lights, My favorite color is green, I talk with my hands and my mom calls me polar bear because on the day I was born it was snowing.

I don’t watch tv much these days, but I grew up on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network and will argue with any of you that the old Teen Titans show was WAAAAAY better than the new one.

I believe there are 2 types of people in the world…those that follow their dreams and those that don’t.

I am the son of a man who worked 60 hours a week to put food on the table.

I am the son of a mother who taught me to stand as tall as I can, even when her own bones and muscles wouldn’t let her stand at all.

I am only 5’7’….on a really, really good day. And I’m standing before you to tell you that even being built like the shortest of stories has been a life-long lesson in being the tallest tale in the room.

I am both man and brown and some days that feels really heavy.

My family told me that education would be the best shovel.

So I dug, and I dug, and I dug, and I dug, and I dug….and I am still digging.

I am the first person in my family to make it to college.

I am the first Puerto Rican in my family to hold a bachelors and masters degree.

At 25 years old, I am the blueprint for my baby cousins and am my ancestors wildest dreams.

My abuelo used to tell me that in life, where there is not a path for me, that it was my job to make my own way.

That it was my job to keep digging.

I am proof that education is the best shovel for a greater life.

Education is a tool that nobody will ever take away from me….

See, when I was young I didn’t think I would make it.

I didn’t see college as an option.

I didn’t know what or who I wanted to be and the price of college scared the hell out of me.

When I was your age, I was clumsy. I often tripped over my self-esteem and shattered my confidence.

I listen to the news nowadays and it makes me feel the same way I felt then,

but I remember that I belong here…I know that WE ALL BELONG HERE.

College made me feel like I belonged, and it taught me to never let other people determine my worth, so I stopped giving people discounts on my value.

I met my best friends in college.

I traveled across the world in college.

I studied finance, education, and urban studies in college.

I never became the lawyer my parents wanted me to be in college,

but I found a career path I love in college.

I laughed and danced a lot in college.

I found my mentors in college.

I learned “adulting” in college.

I did a lot of learning and unlearning in college.

I learned to be bold, forgiving and real in college….

Some of you in this room already have it in your mind that college is your next step. Raise your hand if you know that college is where you want to be.

 Some of you may be unsure like I was. Let today be a stepping stone for you in that discovery. Take this opportunity to step outside your comfort zone. Today, I challenge you all to BE BOLD. BE FORGIVING, and BE REAL.

Can you all repeat those three things after me?

Be Bold.

Be Forgiving.

Be Real.

I am going to leave you all with a little advice as I wrap up my truth:

Be bold when it comes to the relationships you build. If you decided to go to college, wherever you end up, you will be new to the campus, and chances are you may know very few people if any at all. Change that as fast as you can. Be bold enough to say hi to the strangers you meet today. Bold enough to turn a handshake into a friendship. The greatest things I have taken from college besides the education are the people.

It is the relationships I have built with my peers, mentors and faculty that have made my college experience nothing short of amazing. You get the chance to meet so many interesting and diverse people through college who will open your mind to so many new experiences and points of view. The friendships I have made have taught me more about who I am as a person and more about how life works than any text book. Be bold in building those connections and today is the perfect place to start. Go up to the different college tables and ask questions. No questions is a dumb question. When you return back to your high school be bold in your classroom with your teachers. Ask them questions. Talk to them, I promise they are people too. They can be strong reference for you when you apply for college. My teachers and administrators helped me discover my passions and they can do that for you too. Your dream career can become a reality if you are bold enough to take the steps to make it happen.

If you are sitting down right now thinking, I don’t know what I want to do with my life. If you are undecided about college or stuck between what you should major in, be forgiving.

Be forgiving enough to know that that is okay because you are going to try and figure it out. Be forgiving. You are going to make mistakes. You aren’t perfect. You can’t control everything. One of the roughest lessons I continue to learn is that sometimes life just happens. Family issues may come up, you might fail a test, money may become an issue, you or someone you love might get sick. Trust me these types of things never disappear even when you become an adult. Be forgiving of yourself and know that there are people in your life who are here to help you. You are never alone and the resources provided at different institutions can help you get where you want to be.

Be forgiving of each other. Realize we all have different stories and we are all here for different reasons. Be forgiving to others who may not fully understand the struggles you may have faced to sit where you are today. Maybe you want to go to college because you just want to make a quality income. Maybe for you it means being the first one in your family to graduate college. Maybe you are doing this for your family. Or maybe you want to travel and college is your ticket to see the world. Whatever your story and purpose is, be forgiving to others who have trouble understanding you, but be bold enough to try and understand them. Throughout my undergraduate experience I learned multiple times to be forgiving of myself and my failures and mistakes. I learned to forgive myself for not following the path my parents and I thought was best for me, and I learned to forgive my parents for not knowing any better. No, I may never became that lawyer they dreamed I’d be, but that is okay. I followed a path that my parents are beyond proud of. College helped me be real with what I wanted my life’s purpose to be.

Be real.

Authenticity is the hardest thing. People say “Be honest” as if it’s something that’s easy to do. At your age you still don’t know exactly who you really are. Be forgiving that you don’t know and that it takes a while until you really do. Be real with the mistakes you have made in the past and grow from them. Know that each and every day is an opportunity for you to start with a clean slate. Who you are today does not have to be the person you are tomorrow, and the person you are tomorrow in high school does not have to be the person you will be in college. Get known and get known for the right reasons. Take the opportunities college’s offer to travel abroad or to engage in community service to figure out your own values and beliefs. Be real with how you present yourself to people so that you can become a person you can be proud of. Be real with how you love others and let your actions speak for your worth in this world. I have accomplished a lot in my very short life…Society has led me to believe that someone like me is never meant to be capable. I started a student organization as an undergrad. I have planted gardens in my city to help feed the hungry in my community. I have been able to put a smile on so many people’s faces because of my dancing. I have put down a brand new rug in a school for children in Africa. I was able to help my parents purchase a new house. I now stand in front of you as a George Mason Doctoral student in Education at the age of 25. I don’t say these things to brag. I am no better or worse than any single one of you sitting right now. I say this because I want to be real with you about what opportunities are available for you through education. I want to be real about what a post secondary experience has the potential to do for you. I believe every single one of you can accomplish what you want to with your time in higher education. Be someone who follows their goals. I believe every single one of you can leave an impact that will leave your families and self proud.

So Be bold enough to make meaningful relationships and step outside of your comfort zone. Be forgiving enough to know that you and the people around you will mess up. Be real enough to let others know that you are worth something.

Again, thank you all for listening to my truth. If anything I have said this morning resonated with you and you want to connect please reach out, and remember, Be Bold. Be Forgiving. Be Real. Thank you!