April 20, 2002 - Orange County Register: Gaddi Vasquez speaks to Orange County youth at Leadership Conference

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Directors of the Peace Corps: Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez: The Gaddi Vasquez Nomination to Peace Corps Director: Gaddi Vasquez Begins Tenure as Peace Corps Director [2/15/02]: April 20, 2002 - Orange County Register: Gaddi Vasquez speaks to Orange County youth at Leadership Conference

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Gaddi Vasquez speaks to Orange County youth at Leadership Conference

Read and comment on this story from the Orange County Register on the Latino Youth Conference where Gaddi Vasquez spoke about opportunities for service in the Peace Corps. This was Director Vasquez's first reported opportunity to speak in Orange County since he spoke at a conference sponsored by the California Studies Association/Orange County History Conference on February 21. Read the story at:

Leadership conference is part pep rally, part government class. *

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Leadership conference is part pep rally, part government class.

April 20, 2002

By COURTNEY PERKES The Orange County Register

ANAHEIM -- Before she knew it, Roxanne Gonzalez had a chance Friday to make a difference.

The high school senior registered to vote and stood on stage to the applause of 1,200 students, teachers and volunteers at the first annual Latino Youth Leadership Institute Conference in Anaheim.

"I felt like an adult," said Gonzalez, who turns 18 next month. "I feel I can make a difference by voting. I never thought about it until today."

The conference, a spinoff of the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Conference in Chicago, came together through the efforts of a group of concerned Latinos who each year raise money to send students to the national event. Organizers collected $50,000 and formed a nonprofit group to hold the conference at the West Coast Anaheim Hotel.

The state Department of Education released a study this week showing that in Orange County 15 percent of Hispanics graduated with college-prep classes, compared with 37 percent of all students. Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group of students in the county public-school system.

Conference organizer Nash Orozco said the purpose is to give young people an extra push to go to college, choose a career and participate in civic life.

"We don't want the 4.0 student," Orozco said. "We know he's going to the university."

The daylong conference was a combination of a high school pep rally and government class. Songs included Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." and Aretha Franklin's "Respect." Students whooped and hollered for their high schools, years of graduation and home states in Mexico.

"When I got here and there's music and everyone clapping, it was really different than I expected," said Xochitl Valdovinos, 16, who attends Santa Ana High. "This was really fun."

Students heard from Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana; Gaddi Vasquez, chief of the Peace Corps; and John Telles Jr., a retired Marine colonel. A common message: Get involved and don't let low expectations stop you from succeeding.

During a lunch break, students ate Mexican food on the hotel lawn and browsed booths set up by colleges, employers and unions.

Juan Ozuna, a teacher at Cesar Chavez continuation high school in Santa Ana, said he plans to reinforce Friday's lessons in his classroom.

"Demographics tell us we're there," Ozuna said. "We want to have leadership in place. Not only for ourselves, but for everyone."

Many students said they felt encouraged at the conference to persevere, despite discrimination against Hispanics or views that they are uneducated and unable to speak English.

"There are people who care about us," said Ricardo Castillo, 17, a junior at Valley High in Santa Ana. "They are trying to make us succeed, motivate us."

Castillo moved from Mexico to the United States about 10 years ago. The oldest of six, he said he's determined to become a pediatrician and help his father, who works two jobs, support the family.

"Sometimes there are obstacles, but I think that everything's possible," he said.

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