BRADENTON -- Parents Irma and Reymundo Aguilar proudly sat in the front row of the Bradenton Auditorium as their daughter sat on stage being honored Tuesday with 19 others during the 25th annual Migrant Education Awards Ceremony.
Daughter Michelle Aguilar, 18, who will graduate from Manatee High School in June, and the other honorees were being celebrated for reaching graduation despite the hardships associated with being a part of a migrant family. The program offered a heart-felt, family atmosphere giving high school seniors the opportunity to share in their successes.
Michelle, for example, credits her parents for her completing high school.
“My parents worked endlessly in the hot and humid fields during the morning and then continued to work at local packing houses in the evenings,” she said as part of her biography in the Monday night program booklet. “Knowing that I am the fourth one in my family to graduate, I plan to continue my education and follow my siblings’ footsteps.”
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The hour-long program featured school district officials, including Superintendent Tim McGonegal and board vice-chairman Harry Kinnan. The guest speaker was Alfonso Cruz Jr., a Southeast High School alumnus who currently works at the school as a teacher’s aide.
Cruz told the students that he, too, came from a migrant family.
“Seeing my parents work so hard -- seeing them struggle -- made me realize I had to do great work,” he said. “Class of 2011, you have made your parents very happy.”
That was evident in seeing the faces of parents as they were called upon stage to congratulate their children and accept a rose on behalf of the Migrant Education program.
Maria Matos, program specialist for migrant support services called the program “a real opportunity for those who sometimes would be left behind because they are so transient.”
Michelle’s mother Irma Aguilar is the president of Florida Migrant Parent Advisory Council. Michelle represents Irma and Reymundo’s fourth child to graduate from high school.
“This is a step that my daughter has made -- the first keys to success,” Irma Aguilar said about Michelle. “I want to help other migrant families with their education. The advice I give to the parents is to always support their children and motivate them to get to this level of education.”
Nearly all of Irma and Reymundo’s children have soared beyond high school: Randy Aguilar is studying criminal justice, Reymundo Aguilar Jr. is studying business administration at University of South Florida and older sister Elizabeth also attends USF. Baby brother Luis Aguilar currently has a 4.0 grade point average at Manatee High School.
The family appears to be following the advice shared by Kinnan.
He said, “I strongly suggest (for you) to dream the dreams that you had when you were a small child. Dream and dream big. But to make those dreams come true make a daily commitment. Remember this is not the end. This is only the beginning.”