Blog: Latino Ed Beat

“¡Ask a Mexican!” Columnist Stresses Importance of Community Colleges in Commencement Speech

Gustavo Arellano is known for his nationally syndicated satirical column ¡Ask a Mexican!, where he answers questions from readers ranging from “Why do Mexican men love their mothers so much?” to “Why do Mexicans have so many names?”

But he delivered a more serious message on Wednesday when he gave the commencement speech at California’s Long Beach City College.

Arellano, the son of Mexican immigrants raised in California, shared with students how he also attended a community college. He graduated from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, back in 1999. He worked full-time to support his family and did not receive any financial aid while attending school.

Following graduation, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Chapman University and a master’s from UCLA. But he described himself as an “underachiever” in high school:

“I know the story of a perennial underachiever, someone who couldn’t be convinced to give a damn about high school, who was in danger of becoming a statistic like so many of his peers, whose eyes were forever opened to the glories of the studious life by the community college experience: by the generosity of perpetually stressed counselors and teachers who nevertheless made time for clueless students, by peers who had harder paths than him, yet pushed him to bigger and better things,” he said.

He added that he knew many young people enrolled in community colleges who were undocumented immigrants and struggled financially because they couldn’t obtain federal financial aid, yet still were successful academically and went on to universities.

“It’s community college that has historically accepted anyone regardless of your background, a show of social grace much needed in this country,” he wrote. “Community college forces people to become scholars, to grow up quickly, and doesn’t look kindly on laggers.”

Much has been said about the challenges of community colleges. In particular, that their graduation rates are low. A recent study by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that California community colleges have poor transfer rates to four-year universities for Latino and black students.

A recent Excelencia! in Education study found that in California, about 16% of Latino adults ages 25 to 64 had earned an associate degree or higher, compared with 39% of all adults.

But for many Latinos, they are the point of entry into the higher education system, and thus play an essential role in raising college graduation rates.

You can read his speech here.