Character Education is at the core of every level of programming at the Midtown and Metro Centers. This summer, Midtown’s summer apprentices are partaking in a Character Education course which focuses on finding their mission in life, and how values, goals, and convictions point to fulfilling that mission. Students are embarking on a journey to define their personal mission and the steps to enact it.
Juan Vasquez, a Midtown alumnus and current member of MEF’s Board of Directors, recently joined the apprentices for an engaging discussion on perseverance toward one’s mission. Juan currently works for CyrusOne, a tech company that builds warehouses to house large servers which handle sensitive and important data.
Vasquez grew up in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. He went to St. Agnus school before attending Curie High School. He also attended Midtown during this time, and still relishes the lessons he learned there.
During his presentation to the students, he admitted that he never took grades seriously, and did all he could to get out of class in high school (being the best mechanic in the school, many teachers let Juan get out of class so he could work on their cars!).
However, Midtown helped to ignite a spark in Juan and helped him reach a higher potential. Deciding that he no longer wanted to be a mechanic, Juan began pursuit of a career in architecture. Due to his grades, he could not enroll to the schools he wanted, so he attended classes at Daley College and gained an associate’s degree. Thinking he was well on his way, Juan decided to reapply to UIC, which at the time was a top ten architecture school in the country. But Juan’s journey was only just beginning.
UIC would only accept Juan into the school of art, requiring a year in that program before reapplying to the architecture program. Upon completing that year and completing a portfolio, the Dean of Architecture still was not satisfied. Juan was not to be denied. He visited the dean every week, until finally the dean made him an offer: If Juan could pass a summer architecture course, he could join the program.
Juan was ecstatic until learning that the one course cost $5,000 to attend. He drained his entire bank account to pursue his dream. Once again, Juan thought he was well on his way. However, he did not realize he would be in the class with students who were pursuing a Master’s degree. For the first three projects, Juan was laughed out of the room, as architects critiqued his projects as looking like they were created for Disneyland.
Juan persevered until the final project, which was a culmination of all of the projects of the course. Since Juan had done so poorly on the previous assignments, he had to start over completely for the final. The final also included presenting to a panel of museum curators, architects, the dean of the program, as well as members of the press.
The night before the presentations at around 10:30 PM, Juan just could not put the project together and gave up, throwing all of his designs in the trash. He then called a friend and said he was quitting the architecture program. His friend told him he could not give up and invited him over to his house to finish it. After some convincing, Juan finally drove 45 minutes to his friend’s house. Upon entering, his friend simply stated, “Here’s a computer, here’s a printer, start drawing.”
Juan stayed up all night, as one idea morphed into another, he frantically finished the project. At 8am, he departed for the presentation. He arrived five minutes late to the black-tie event, looking disheveled in the same clothes as the day before. His professor exclaimed, “Juan, you are done!” before giving him a small corner of space to display his design. It wasn’t enough space, so Juan stretched the rest of his design across the floor.
His classmates presented and received rousing reviews from the panel. After Juan finally presented, he felt it didn’t go well. After he returned to his seat, a classmate said, “Wow, get ready to hear it from the panel now.”
Juan admittedly thought he was done, and that his dreams of becoming an architect were dashed, but then something happened. An architect on the panel approached the stage, and began praising Juan’s design. Another architect joined the debate, critiquing aspects of the design. Soon, the entire panel was passionately discussing Juan’s piece and how it had all come together.
Later that week, Juan learned that despite failing the first three projects, he had received a B in the class, and the Dean agreed to admit him to the program.
In speaking to the boys at Midtown, Juan tied his tale back to the lessons of his father, who worked incredibly long a steel mill, often so long that Juan would not see him for days. The values his father instilled – hard work, never giving up, and leaning on friends when you need to – carried Juan through this experience and continue to carry him to new heights today.
Juan also cites Midtown’s impact on his life, further instilling these values, and he continues to make the success of Midtown boys part of his own mission. He visits the center regularly to coach and interact with students, serves on MEF’s Board of Directors, and recently spearheaded a CyrusOne Golf Outing that raised over $170,000 for MEF programs.
Juan serves as a consummate example of a Midtown/Metro alumnus, finding success in education, in a career, with his family, and through giving back to the community. MEF would like to thank Juan for his tremendous support and contributions and for finding his way back to Midtown, as so many alumni do.