At NCLR, we aim to foster the dreams of youth through programs that support their educational development. One is the Escalera Program, which promotes economic mobility for Latino youth by increasing educational attainment, career planning, and access to information about advanced careers.
This year, our California Regional Office had the pleasure of hosting an Escalera Program student, Graco Hernandez, as an intern during his last semester at Academia Avance, an NCLR Affiliate. Graco was a fine addition to the staff and provided much-needed assistance. Before he finished his internship, we talked with Graco about his time as an Escalera student, his plans in the fall, and his hopes for the future.
NCLR: How did you get involved with the Escalera Program?
Graco: I came to Escalera as a student at Academia Avance, which is an NCLR Affiliate. The program was something to help me prepare for college, to help me know what I wanted to become. Escalera helped me become a well-rounded individual and it revealed to me stuff I knew and stuff I didn’t know about myself. For example, it told me that I enjoyed speaking and innovating. Another thing is that it helped cement the idea of going to college.
NCLR: How has your participation been instrumental to your success so far?
Graco: I would have found another way [to get to college], but Escalera helped me get there faster than any other route. It helped streamline my education. Rather than vaguely looking around for something I was interested in, the Escalera Program said, “Hey, this is your personality, these are some of the things you do, why don’t you look at these professions?” It really helped open my eyes to take a look at those options. It sharpened my focus of what my career path could be.
NCLR: What are some of your favorite memories of the program?
Graco: It’s hard to say any one memory. Our teacher made the program really fun. It didn’t even feel like a class, even though it was the first one of the day. Being in a place that’s so supportive was one of my best experiences.
NCLR: What are your plans for the future?
Graco: I’m really interested in civic engagement and also acting. Escalera helped me cement the idea that I’d rather be out doing something than being cooped up in an office. This fall, I’m going to UC Irvine and will be double majoring in political science and drama.
NCLR: What are you looking forward to about college?
Graco: The independence. I’ve always been a go-getter. In college I feel like I’ll have the opportunity to seize more opportunities. Not to mention there will be lots of food, and I love food.
NCLR: What advice do you have for future Escalera students?
Graco: Keep an open mind. Some of the activities might seem frustrating at times, but it’s worth it. If you actually take the time to explore what’s being presented to you, you’ll see that it’s fun—and educational. It helps you grow as a person. It shows you that it’s not just a small world, that there are all kinds of schools that might have what you’re looking for.
NCLR: Parting thoughts?
Graco: I had the privilege of being an intern at NCLR and it was really inspirational. It’s also why I’m so interested in civic engagement. I hope to come back after college one day and maybe even work for NCLR!