Thursday, June 11, 2015

Grossmont College commencement speaker overcomes odds; heads to UC Berkeley

Grossmont College graduate Caleb Martinez turns to rapper Tupac Shakur when mulling the eternal question of the meaning of life. 

Caleb Martinez and his daughter, Nevaeh.
So when the seed was first planted in his mind to give the student speech at Grossmont College’s commencement June 3, he immediately thought of his favorite poem, Shakur’s  “The Rose that Grew From Concrete.”

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong,
it learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Martinez overcame a childhood of poverty, living in crime-ridden neighborhoods and spending periods in juvenile hall, to become a straight-A student in college. He is headed on a full-ride scholarship in the fall for the University of California, Berkeley, where he plans to major in political science and eventually obtain a law degree. He envisions becoming a civil rights attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

He told the audience that life’s circumstances were his concrete. His graduation from Grossmont College with associate degrees in political science and university studies is proof, he said, of the allegory of the rose in the concrete.

Martinez was born on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation in Arizona, and raised by a single mother. He said  he and an older brother, Jimmy, both got in trouble with gangs. Although Jimmy tried to get his life in order, enrolling at Grossmont College, he couldn’t escape the pull of the streets and was killed by a rival gang member.

Then 15, Martinez said he lost interest in school and appeared destined to fulfill others’ predictions of a life of crime and violence. It was the birth of his daughter that proved the turning point for the then-17-year-old.  When the mother of his infant daughter disappeared, Martinez vowed to give his little girl, Nevaeh, now 9, a better upbringing.

When Nevaeh was old enough to start school, Martinez enrolled at Grossmont College. He recalled the kindness of EOPS counselor Michael Perez, whom he met at his brother’s funeral.

 “He has been the most supportive and influential figure in my college career,” said Caleb, who proved himself an academic standout at Grossmont. A Bernard Osher Scholarship recipient and Grossmont College Student of Note, he successfully juggled his parenting with his 20-hour-a-week job in the EOPS office. He also found time to preside over the EOPS student club.

“Grossmont College has been more than a school for me,” Martinez said. “It created a community and a family.”

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