“My dad had an utter belief in who I was. I could have told him I was gonna fly, and he would be like “That’s right baby, you’re gonna fly.”
“I know that education has always driven me. Being a first generation American, education has been a great equalizer. If I can excel academically, my background doesn’t matter. Thinking back on what motivated me in the classroom, I turn to that to see what I can give other people. My long term goal is to do education reform and education policy – hopefully on a national level. That means working on the Hill, and maybe one day becoming Secretary of Education. I’m so passionate about it, that I can’t imagine not succeeding in the field.
“My dad is the one who empowered me to believe in education. I would promise him I would make an impact and he always said okay. And he never questioned what I wanted to do because he knew I was going to do well. And there were things he couldn’t help me with because he never went to college, so I had to turn to other people, but he trusted what I wanted to do. “You know what Sha, if this is what you want to do, you should do it.” He went above and beyond for our family. He believed in me like no one else in my life. “No doubt about it, my daughter’s going to be President of the United States.”
“My dad’s life is such an inspiration and motivation for me. He was a rebellious kid, so when he was thirteen he was put into the Honduran Army. He learned the trade of engineering. He learned what it meant to have discipline. At such a young age, he had to learn how to be an adult.
“At 17, there was a civil war in Nicaragua. My dad’s father was a high-ranking general. [They were both] working at the border and a grenade went off, and it killed his father. He was put in Army jail for a year for leaving the Army to go to his father’s funeral. After that, his mom told him to go to the States and finish high school in LA. Then he moved to New York City to live with his Uncle. His Uncle was very unreliable so there were moments when my dad would sleep on park benches. He had never seen the snow, he only had one pair of boots – cowboy boots. You just think that for someone who does not speak the language, to come to America where its supposed to be the dream… to see where he ended up and where I am now, its humbling.
“When he met my mom, she was actually 11 years older than him. I think [my dad] lied about his age. My mom, she was 32. She was the 2nd oldest of her siblings. She was the Executive Secretary of a health insurance company. That was a big deal back then – she was Puerto Rican and high ranking. They started to date; my grandparents always said she was so caught up with him and they didn’t get it. She was so motivating to him, she saw so much potential in him. It makes me see the potential in other people. She told my dad, “either you’re marrying me or you’re not and I’m walking away.” My birth mom – her presence and her lack of presence in my life really shaped me dramatically. The wedding band that he gave her is a ring I wear now.
“At 36 my mom has me. I become the light of her life. I was the center of it all – the youngest cousin. My dad was so young at the time, I think at the time he was just interested in playing games. So when she died [when my younger sister was born], I think it devastated him. He realized how much better he had to be. He wanted to be the best dad ever.
“My dad decided to move to Miami. There’s so many memories I have of him trying to raise my sister and I. He didn’t want to take us in to the men’s bathroom. He didn’t want to expose us to bad things. He struggled. I remember him trying to fix my hair. Him cooking Chef Boyardee, me thinking that was a good meal. I think back on those memories and how that experience sobered him up. My mom was someone who devoted herself to her family, someone who devoted herself deeply while he was still messing around. I think he went through times where he thought it should have been him and not her. [As we grew up,] he was very selective about what women he brought into our lives. I remember going through an adjustment period. Then he met my Step Mom – she brought peace into his life.
“I got to be on the road with him when I moved to DC. It was 5am. I got in my car; this was going to be the first time really away from my family for a long period of time. And my dad looks at me, crying, saying that I’m gonna go to DC and I’m gonna meet Obama and I’m just gonna be gone. I’m gonna go there and I’m gonna rock Washington and I’m not gonna come back. And I just kind of looked at him, tears in my eyes too, and told him that he couldn’t start now because we had a long ride ahead of us and we were both going to be a mess if he didn’t stop.
“We had a great time. It was a lot of transition and change at the time. We’re driving to my apartment and he said we have to stop at the White House. He parks the car with the U-Haul right in front of the White House. He makes me bring my suitcase in front of the White House like I was moving in.
“A year ago when he took me to DC we all wrote these letters with one year goals and five year goals. And I have these letters from him with these goals and now he’s gone.
“My dad had an utter belief in who I was. I could have told him I was gonna fly, and he would be like “That’s right baby, you’re gonna fly.” I know he’s still with me and guiding me. If I take his passion and apply it to what I do, I will succeed.”