Pay it forward message moves youths at multicultural summit

Oct 31 2013 - 8:02am

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Judge Andrew A. Valdez, Third District Juvenile Court, on Wednesday shared his personal story of overcoming his humble beginnings through education. Valdez was the keynote speaker for the Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit, Weber State University. 10/30/13 (NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner)
Judge Andrew A. Valdez, Third District Juvenile Court, on Wednesday signed copies of his book, "No One Makes It Alone," for students attending the Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit, at Weber State University. 10/30/13 (NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner)
Micah Clark, with Urban Dance Organization, addresses a room full of teens Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 at Weber State University. He was encouraging the teenagers to get out of their comfort zone. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
People Watch In His Service - True Vine Baptist Church Step Team perform in the the Shepherd Union Building on the Weber State University Campus Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
In His Service - True Vine Baptist Church Step Team perform in the the Shepherd Union Building on the Weber State University Campus Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
De'Von' McCullough, left, and Micah Clark encourage teens to get out of their comfort zone Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 in the Shepherd Union Building on the Weber State University campus. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
Judge Andrew A. Valdez, Third District Juvenile Court, on Wednesday shared his personal story of overcoming his humble beginnings through education. Valdez was the keynote speaker for the Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit, Weber State University. 10/30/13 (NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner)
Judge Andrew A. Valdez, Third District Juvenile Court, on Wednesday signed copies of his book, "No One Makes It Alone," for students attending the Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit, at Weber State University. 10/30/13 (NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner)
Micah Clark, with Urban Dance Organization, addresses a room full of teens Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 at Weber State University. He was encouraging the teenagers to get out of their comfort zone. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
People Watch In His Service - True Vine Baptist Church Step Team perform in the the Shepherd Union Building on the Weber State University Campus Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
In His Service - True Vine Baptist Church Step Team perform in the the Shepherd Union Building on the Weber State University Campus Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
De'Von' McCullough, left, and Micah Clark encourage teens to get out of their comfort zone Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 in the Shepherd Union Building on the Weber State University campus. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)

OGDEN -- Andrew A. Valdez knows what it feels like to be a poor Latino boy, shining shoes and selling papers for change, and later to be the first in his family to attend college.

"I felt like a raisin in a bowl of rice," said Valdez, now 62 and a 3rd District Juvenile Court judge retiring this week after 20 years on the bench.

Valdez shared his story with nearly 900 teens who attended the Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit on Wednesday at Weber State University. Participants, many on a campus for the first time, listened to speakers, went to workshops and watched culturally themed entertainment.

As a boy, Valdez dreamed of being a lawyer, but he knew of no way to make it happen. One day, Valdez, then 10 and a Salt Lake City paper boy, spoke to a passing white man.

"I was a mouthy kid," Valdez said, prompting appreciative laughter. "He always had a paper, and I said, 'Buy one from me someday.' His thought was, 'Who is this kid who thinks he can demand something from me?' "

The man was businessman Jack Keller, who not only bought his future papers from Valdez, but later became the boy's mentor.

"My world was nine blocks, from my house to that corner," Valdez said. "I had never been east of State Street. I was on that corner in freezing cold, in hot summers, always on guard, because there were bullies out there, and people who would rob you, drunks and people who would target kids."

Keller took Valdez to Liberty Park and taught him tennis. Keller also took Valdez to see the University of Utah School of Law.

"Jack Keller expanded my world," Valdez said. "He introduced me to people who had gone to school, people who were successful, people who were lawyers. He introduced me to people who had money, good clothes, good cars, and who talked differently -- an all-white society. All white. But they embraced me."

Valdez realized his dreams were reachable. He attended the University of Utah, and he earned a law degree. It took only one person, Valdez said, to change a young boy's future for the better.

"And look around at how many people you have who care about you," the judge told the students, who were seated with their teachers and counselors.

For a time, Valdez lost track of his mentor, but he discovered Keller again, suffering from Alzheimer's disease and about to be arrested. Valdez intervened and made sure Keller's final years were spent comfortably, in a nursing home. In 2008, Valdez published "No One Makes It Alone," and dedicated the book in part to his "guardian angel in disguise." Valdez signed copies given to teens at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit.

Valdez urged students to ask for guidance and to do what is necessary to get an education, then to pay it forward by inspiring others to achieve goals beyond what their limited circumstances would seem to dictate.

Nam Nguyen, a student at Taylorsville High School, said Valdez's speech worked on him.

"It was inspirational," he said. "I want to be more successful and more happy."

Odalys Juarez, 16 and a student at Layton's Northridge High, said she is ready to push forward.

"I feel more motivated to go to college and get a better education," she said. "This has given me an extra push."

Weber State has sponsored an annual Multicultural Youth Conference for 19 years, said Eulogio Alejandre, WSU's Student 2 Student coordinator. This year, the Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs signed on as co-sponsor and combined the two groups' scheduled conferences under one name.

The result was an enormous group of students, arriving from near and far and packing the ballrooms of the WSU Shepherd Union Building. With teachers and advisers, the group totaled about 950, Alejandre said, and hundreds of applicants were turned away because of the space's 1,000-person capacity.

Weber State began its own conferences for a few reasons, Alejandre said.

"One is the university has a responsibility to serve all students," he said. "Before it started, a lot of different groups were not well-represented at Weber State. We are still working on increasing the numbers."

Besides encouraging students from all racial groups to think of Weber State as their university, a second goal is to attract students who will be the first in their families to go to college.

"Our goal would be 30 percent. We want them to know this is their university," Alejandre said. "Their taxes pay for this educational opportunity. Education will open many doors."

Claudia Nakano, director of the Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs, said the conference supports the goal of Gov. Gary Herbert to have 66 percent of Utahns with diplomas or certificates of completion for a trade by 2020, Nakano said.

"The goal is a healthy workforce and economy for the state," she said. "I think this has been very energizing and motivating for the students -- at least we are hoping. Judge Valdez is an amazing person, and he came from a life that may be like that of a lot of students here. For them to know there's been someone who came so far and who is as successful as he, and for him to reach back and pay it forward, that means a lot."

Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or nvan@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at

@S_ENancyVanV.

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