on the fall of 2017 I was presenting my research at a national research conference as discussed some area of such conferences they were booths from universities from all over the nation which were there to recruit students for their graduate and undergraduate programs at the time I was a student at a community college which meant that I was finishing my second year there and either to find a four-year institution or transferred to and get my bachelor’s degree from. that was a great opportunity for me to go around and get to see the schools I would soon be applying to I remember being very excited about applying to Columbia University. that was the first who fight visited I approached him I said hi very nice to meet you I’m Gabriel and I’m very interested in transferring to Columbia could you tell me a little bit more about it and in those conferences we usually get where Linear’s just like this one with our names and the university becomes oxido research I accept if you go to a community college in which Keys it says your name and under that community college and I didn’t realize it when I was speaking to the Columbia representative my lanyard was split. she couldn’t see where I was from. naturally she asked me to turn it around in a minute I did. she said oh you know it’s really hard and transferred to Columbia right and she gave me some pamphlets and a go lion spin and essentially told me to have a great day she didn’t know but that same evening I would be standing in a podium winning an award standing next to students from Harvard and UChicago and ironically Columbia little did she know that six months later I was like she accepted to Columbia University and three other Ivy League institutions and decided to transfer to yeah but before I go ahead and tell you more about community colleges let me tell a little bit more about my story and how I got to go to Community College here in the United States everybody knows me as Gabriel Cortez but my real name is Gabrielle conch go to his much teams I’m from Brazil where I was born and raised and lived there for 17 years because of my dad’s job we used to move a lot in fact I’m originally from Sao Paulo a large urban center in Southeast Brazil but also lives in places like my nose a small town located in Amazonian Brazil where I live just blocks away from the Amazon River when I was 17 I remember going back home and my dad told us a great news we were moving again but this time we were moving to Miami and no boy did I like to hear that I mean I may be a little biased but I do think Miami is the greatest city in America we have a year-long summer the beach is right there any official language spoken there is Spanglish which I myself have always found fascinating and going there sounded like a great idea and Miami was a place that I got to go home very soon but when we made the decision of moving to another country we completely forgot to factor in another important thing which was the fact that I was 17 I didn’t speak English and I was a senior in high school and that meant that coming to the United States not only would I have to adapt to a completely new culture and learn a new language but it will also only have six months to adapt to a completely new educational system and in college application process that I had never heard of when I moved to Miami I went to an overpopulated public high school and just like most overpopulated public high schools in America I didn’t know what college counseling was until I went to college in fact my college counseling consisted of me and my friends sitting in my room submitting our applications through universities a day of the deadline I didn’t know people visited schools and searched for like a good fit or dream school if you will. it just applies to the school that I had kind of heard of I applied to the University of Florida and the University of Miami I thought they were great places and perhaps I could get into them and be happy there and two months later I got two rejection letters and that’s really messed up with my self-esteem because I was learning a new language I was taking AP and honors courses doing a lot of extracurriculars and for someone who didn’t speak English that well minus eighty scores were quite decent but those schools didn’t seem to think that I belonged there it didn’t seem to think that I was good enough and at that time I didn’t have a school to go but I did have two paths I could take I could either decide to go back to Brazil and restart my education over there away from my family or every stay in the United States and go to a community college but the latter option really didn’t seem very appealing because everything I had ever heard about community colleges was negative in fact all of my friends my teachers my counselors and everyone I knew in the United States seem to have the same opinion about community colleges it was a place that took anybody it is a place where you get a degree that it’s not worth it you probably won’t get a job after that it’s a place for losers for people who are unmotivated and going to Community College is essentially a synonym for setting up your life for failure but I reason with myself I don’t have anything to lose. I’ll go to a community college for six months and if I don’t like it I’ll just go back to Brazil. I decided to apply to miami-dade College a community college in Miami and most specifically to the Honors College which is a two-year program that is designed to help students transfer to out-of-state institution it comes with the scholarship and a stipend every semester. I wasn’t even going to spend money.
I said why not I’ll go there for six months and if it doesn’t work I’ll just go back to Brazil I applied and this time I got it I think they actually read my application de Simon said well maybe he has some potential maybe it would give him a chance we can see what he can offer and I remembered that the first day of orientation all those ideas I had about community colleges all about those misconceptions that were completely built on prejudice were completely dismantled and that was because in the first day of orientation there was a panel with students who had just recently graduated from miami-dade College and we’re transferring to to its 40 institutions in that panel I met a student named Constance Thurmond who’s here today in the audience and Constance was Celia’s how she was transferring to Yale and how miami-dade College helped her do that but she was also telling us about how much she loves in miami-dade College how she got a great education there was an incredible sense of community she made great friends was very close to her professors she also said that she was really involved in her community and she could follow her passions she did work with human rights with human traffic victims in the city of Miami while still having time to dedicate time to her spiritual artistic life constants that day became to me a role model she showed to me a standard of performance that I needed to be at if I wanted to transfer to a place like yeah but much more important than that Constance showed me something that no one else good she showed me possibility she was the first person who went against the idea that he could go to Community College gear failure she said I came here I loved it and I’m going to yell and maybe I couldn’t do that but seeing that she did it made me thinking got me thinking in my orientation table what if I could transfer to Yale what if I could do all these amazing things and that changed my mindset from day one in college and it was very important for me to know my goal and to know that perhaps I could achieve it but Constance was only the first amazing person I met at miami-dade College in fact most of my classes there were probably the most diverse array of people you’ve ever heard of name a country I probably had had a class with someone from there in fact some of my closest friends are from Lithuania Lebanon literally any country in South and Central America little like a lot of countries in Asia Australia New Zealand countries in Africa literally all over the world I’m not kidding just name a country and I’ll be like yeah I know someone from here also I had class with people who immigrated to the United States for a reason just like myself because their parents got transferred and their jobs or because they wanted to change their lifestyles but I also had class with people who immigrated here because they had no other choice people who are fleeing coming communist dictatorships in South and Central America people who were there because they were leaving Haiti after the earthquake which completely destroyed the land they had no choice I held high cause with people who were single mothers who would work during today and at night would take classes they believed going to college would provide them with a better future not only for themselves before their children as well I had class with people who were in their sixties in their 70s and they were retired but they never got to go to college but they were doing. now that he had some time but I also went to class with people I went to high school with who chose to stay in Miami for many reasons some of them couldn’t afford to go out of state institutions some of them just wanted to stay close to their families or some of them just wanted to go to Miami D College all of us were different all of us had different purposes and all of us had a different background but all of us had something in common we wanted to follow our dreams we wanted to get a college education and we were doing. we’re dedicating our time and putting a lot of effort into going to college and making change in our community and you know just trying to get that thing they call the American dream and needless to say my experience at Miami Dade College had nothing to do with ideas that I or the Columbia representative have about community colleges in fact going to miami-dade College showed me a very important aspect of institutions that will take anybody anyone has a talent but if you’ve never had a stage to perform no one would know that he have that talent today you see me here speaking at Yale anything well he belongs here all along but that was not the case in high school not because I didn’t have the skills I have today not because I didn’t have the talents I’d have today and not because I didn’t have the will to come here but simply because I had too little time to even show all those qualities about myself miami-dade College was the stage I was able to perform they gave me a chance to say hey I am more than just like a regular student or somebody who doesn’t care about life I just really want to get an education. and those are my skills these are my talents and this is who I am and up until now all they could tell you about community colleges come from anecdotes and personal stories but just recently a study published by Jack & Cooke foundation that was featured in Forbes magazine has shown that community college students actually do better we have higher retention rates great GPAs creating Ballman on campus and most of us tend to go to graduate and professional schools and that is when compared not only to students who transfer from four-year institutions but also who’s who student sperm gugak went to college straight from high school yet the question remains in selective institutions out of the transfer pool community college students represent less than 7% of the students that transfer to that institution and why is that is it because the people sitting at Nicias community simply doesn’t like people in the community colleges or is it because people our community colleges are not applying to selective schools are deny applying because they don’t have the resources because they don’t think they can’t get in or is it because the idea never crossed our minds unfortunately I don’t have an answer to any of those questions because anything I would say about it would be solely based on my opinion but also because I didn’t come here today to bad schools to change the way they do transfer admissions because that is happening without any question last year Princeton reinstalled is transfer admissions process after 30 years of not taking any students as its transferred they sat on a website that they were looking specifically for community college students and the results out of the 13 that student of the 13 students that transfer to Princeton last year over 50 percent came from community colleges. I do hope that all their institutions like Yale and Harvard and selected institutions across the nation will start to get on that trend and that this will become the norm but again I didn’t come here to address these questions but I came here for two reasons the first one is that I’m addressing a crowd of Yale students many of which will be soon going to the workforce and many of which will hold some sort of leadership position you’ll be responsible for giving people jobs for hiring people giving them raises essentially giving people opportunity and who knows maybe you sit in that admissions committee and decide who gets to go to college and who doesn’t and I want you to understand a very important thing if you go to Yale you’re probably amazing and super talented and amazing but just because you don’t go to Yale it doesn’t mean that that’s not true but it might mean that you never had a chance to show that it might mean that you’ve never had a stage to perform but as leaders you can give them that chance you can be to them what miami-dade College was to me and you can help these people achieve their dreams but most importantly I’m here for a second reason I’m here for the student who just like myself a year ago wasn’t Google asking where do I go from a Community College can I transfer to a place like Yale has anybody ever gone from a community college to an Ivy League institution I’m your producer then who just like myself in high school was questioning whether or not they should go to college at all or if they just should just postpone that idea of getting a college education or go back to their countries I want to be to them what Constance was to me and I want to show to them that yes you can go to Community College and you’re not a loser you can go to Community College and you can transfer to whatever institution you want you can go to Community College and you will be successful there’s nothing wrong about following your dreams. don’t let anybody stop you from that just because they think that that’s what’s up miami-dade College presidents and Medal of Honor recipient Eduardo Padron has the same talent is universal but opportunities of privilege and about a year from today I’ll be walking up a stage and getting my degree from the University and to say that I a Latino immigrant who came to this country for years ago without speaking English will be an Ivy League graduate is beyond an honor beyond pride but is a dream but is a dream that was only possible a dream that was only within my reach and above all a dream that I was only able to dream because of a community college in South Florida thank you for coming to my TEDx [Applause] you