15 yards that measure success | Tito Hinojos

Recently, I was invited to be part of a celebration where many local community members were honored for their contributions.

As I mingled with the honorees, it was evident that we all were woven into a quilt of our personal contributions by the thread of the principle of working together. Each individual who was honored has a story that will forever be treasured by those they have reached.

This past month, I was also honored to address the Latino students and parents at Todd Beamer High School. I used the opportunity to talk about the importance of being a member of a team.

Reaching into the archives of my past days as a high school student, I pulled out the story of the night three young men got a purple ribbon because I dropped the gold. They had prepared hard in order to win, while I was living a loser’s lifestyle and dreamed about being the gold medal recipients — while my dreams weren’t worth a penny.

It was a landmark rude awakening for me that night, at the state’s most prestigious track and field event. Participants were there by invitation only. I was assigned the third leg of this race — the final, yet most anticipated race of the event. Cameras were flashing as the best of the best 32 quarter-mile sprinters were eyeing the gold. There were eight teams of four members representing the different schools, ethnicities, cultures and socio-economic statuses.

We had by all means pretty much cinched the gold as I received the handoff with a lead of 15 yards. My team received the 6th place ribbon — no gold.

That morning, I introduced the audience to the same baton that, for a moment, just like the three teammates, had tasted the sensation of victory. It has been with me since 1972, and reminds me that we cannot make it in life alone. We must work toward being team players and care enough to make a difference that will impact our communities.

I commend Todd Beamer High for taking courageous steps in helping the 193 Latino students and their families becoming part of the relay team. Thank you, principal Liz Drake, for taking the baton first — and for the confidence to believe that this year’s 38 Latino seniors can receive their baton (diploma) if they work hard and work together.

Many parents have voiced their endorsement by saying “Ya era tiempo” ("it’s about time"). What their expression means: They recognized that it took someone of vision and courage to hire a Latino staffer to serve as the liaison who would link the system with the students, with the parents and with the community. Because of your passion to see young men and women succeed, even if they are from another country and with parents that only speak their native language, you are bold and valiant in taking the first leg of the race.

Many of these students may want to quit the race, but with the leadership of Evelyn Rojas, today’s winners will be tomorrow’s legacies. Mrs. Rojas learned how to speak and write English at age 10. She knows the difficulties of trying to succeed in a system that requires you to know English beyond just "thank you" and "you’re welcome." She now spends countless hours servicing Latino students and their families, hoping to take the baton to the next level, where these students will serve the community as adults. She has embraced the program and the vision. Visiting with her, you will definitely remember her motto, “Juntos podemos” ("Together we can").

Success is not measured by what you report, but rather, by how others interpret the report. That day as I visited with students, I was more impressed with the parents that were there — especially a mother of three high school students at Todd Beamer. I interpret this outcome as a successful passing of the baton from the principal to the liaison and to the parent. This parent didn’t just come to listen; she was involved in helping sign in the students and handing out information.

I still live that night daily because it reminds me that I must be prepared to run the race in order to hand the baton to the ultimate finisher, our children and youth. Even though I failed my friends, and in spite of not being a good student, I graduated from high school and a university. All because of mama Lolita, who passed on the baton with her blood, sweat and tears on it. I made the decision to succeed!

My friends, you know the ending of my relay race. But tomorrow, we will know whether the students I addressed at Todd Beamer High receive the ribbon or the gold (diploma). We must all be ready in season and out of season. When given the opportunity to serve, we will be prepared to confidently hand off the baton with a lead of 15 yards that will measure up to success, love, encouragement, discipline, friendship, moral support, emotional support, spiritual support, understanding, financial support, parental understanding when child fails, a hug, a kiss, a tear, trust, and a thank you.

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