Last Friday was an emotional morning for the students, families, and mentors who participated in the 2011 Hispanic Youth Institute at Towson University, held June 21-24.
The program’s closing ceremony on Friday brought together more than 20 groups of Maryland Latino high school students who, for four days had been involved in workshops and discussions about college and career goals.
The Latino population is growing in Maryland. According to census figures Latinos now make up 8.2 percent of the state population, compared to 4.3 percent in 2000.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin spoke at the ceremony about a number of issues regarding education, including the “Dream Act,” which would allow some illegal immigrant students to attend Maryland colleges at in-state tuition rates.
A petition drive is afoot to try to derail the measure that was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in April. The law was to go into effect this week.
Cardin began by applauding students for participating in the summer institute, stating “you could be doing all types of things, but you’re involved.”
He went on to say that students today are graduating with too much debt.
“College is too expensive,” he said.
He said he agreed with President Obama that in order to compete on a global level, American students must be able to out-educate and out-innovate in comparison to the rest of the world.
He suggested that the best way to solve the economic deficit in America is to “create more jobs in America” and that lawmakers should make sure that “the American dream is open to all people in this country.”
Responded to by cheers and applause, Cardin called for the “Dream Act” to “become real” both in Maryland and Nationally.
Meanwhile, the program’s mentors, who called each group their “families” in Spanish, noted how much the participants had changed during the institute and said that their futures are bright.
“I want you guys to know that you have a purpose,” one mentor tearfully said to his group of students.
Family members took photos and applauded their students for the work that they had done.
Hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Hispanic College Fund, the institute is a national program that encourages Hispanic high school students to pursue higher education and give back to their communities.
The fund provides students with mentors and resources that help them to make sounder and more informed decisions regarding life after high school and informs them of their options as future professionals.
This year, the institute was held in Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico, Virginia, and Maryland.
As an incentive for students who participated in the institute, Towson University is offering an application fee waiver to all who apply to the university in addition to a $2,000 grant, if they are accepted, to be allocated over the four years that they attend Towson.
“We do face obstacles, but we have allies, we have friends that want to help us,” Director of the institute for Maryland and Virginia, J. Daniel Sarmiento said.
According to the organization’s statistics, since 2004 about 75 percent of Hispanic Youth Institute alumni have gone on to receive a bachelor’s degree within six years of graduating from high school.
At the completion of the Hispanic Youth Institute, students are enrolled into a Hispanic College Fund year-round program, which continues the mentoring efforts initiated during the summer activities.