At one time or another, every PA Scholar has met with board members and PLUMS (Parents of Alums) who make up the scholarship committee for an application interview. The content of these interviews varies — sometimes students discuss why they need the scholarships; other times they'll talk about their post-graduation plans. Few interviews, however, affected the committee quite like Rudy Calderon's.
He first told the committee about the challenges of getting an education with immigrant parents. He spoke of the joy of graduating as valedictorian while being the first in his family to graduate from high school. He shared the corresponding pressure to succeed and be a role model to his four siblings.
"I need to graduate to let them know that they can do it. Even though it's hard sometimes to be a minority in this country, I know I can do it, and I will do it," he said. "I want to be the first one to graduate in my family so they can see that it's possible and not to be discouraged."
He described the reason he needed additional support: After graduating high school, Calderon applied to be an exchange student with Rotary International. He was accepted and assigned to study Mandarin Chinese in Taipei, Taiwan, but because he had to defer his acceptance to ASU for a year, Calderon lost several of the scholarships that required him to attend directly out of high school. It was a tough decision, he said, but he knew the experience would be worth it.
Calderon recalled fondly the year he spent in the Asian country, living with four different exchange families and learning at Taiwanese high schools with 50 other Rotarians. He laughed about the fascination the native Taiwanese students had with him and his fellow exchange students. "They'd follow us around and take pictures. We were like rock stars," he said.
His left wrist is still adorned with twenty or so bracelets — keepsakes made and given by fellow exchange students in Taiwan. He's never taken them off, holding them close as marks of remembrance for the time he had and the people he met.
He told the parents how his time abroad had increased his appreciation for his family. "We cried every time we called each other," Calderon said. "I've never seen my dad cry, except when they dropped me off at the airport."
He then revealed the period of several months when his father became ill and the family was forced to live without a home, a moving recollection that affected the interviewers as well as the student.
"Next thing you know, the committee members and I were crying," Calderon said. "We were all just kind of teary-eyed. It was really emotional."
Calderon was awarded the scholarship and is now a junior majoring in global studies and Chinese. He'll graduate in May 2012 with a pair of degrees in Chinese and global studies, and his family plans to throw a huge party when he does.
"I'm looking forward to that day," Calderon said. "In Mexican tradition, parties can last all weekend, so that should be really fun."
A donation to the family association assures that students like Rudy, with extraordinary potential, can attend ASU and model success for their families.
"I know that I'll succeed," he says. "I just really want to thank the parents and let them know that they should continue their efforts, because there are students out there who are willing to take full advantage of it."