Edwin Quinon is proof that a lot can happen in five years.
As a freshman in North Central’s first Act Six Scholars cadre, Quinon plans to study computer science. Along with the other Act Six scholars, he went through a rigorous selection process that included writing multiple lengthy essays, hours of interviews, tests of interaction with others, and proven academic success.
But five years ago, Quinon could barely speak English. After arriving in Minnesota from Guatemala at age 17 at the invitation of a family friend, Quinon was working to pay rent and the bills. But deep in his heart he knew he needed an education. He was attending church in Richfield, Minn., where a friend encouraged him to go to high school with her.
The principal of Richfield High School was willing to accept the Guatemalan boy with a stalled education on one condition, telling Quinon that he would be able to attend, provided that he didn’t fail any classes.
I had no clue
“I didn’t know English!” Quinon recounted. The first month was a struggle, he recalled, “I had no choice. At some point I would have to learn English.”
He winces as he remembers the pressure of going to school from 8 a.m. to 2:40 p.m., working from 3 to 10 p.m., and doing his homework around midnight each night. He went through the English as a Second Language program, starting at level 1, yet still having to keep up with sophomore-level school work.
A new dream emerges
“When I finished my junior year, I was done with the ESL program,” Quinon recalled. It was then that he realized he wanted to go to college.
Quinon knew it was unlikely, so even though college seemed out of reach, he walked through a familiar pattern: first, he got discouraged and told himself there was no way he could that he could pay for college; then he decided, “I am going to try. If I don’t make it, at least I am going to try my best.” At that point, the doors seemed to open at every turn.
Quinon applied for and received a $1,000 scholarship. Then an individual teacher at the school met with him to say she had heard his story and wanted to help pay his tuition for a local community college.
And then he heard about the Act Six program.
“At this point I thought, ‘I have applied for so many scholarships, I might as well apply for this one,’” Quinon recalled. When he started reading about Act Six, though, he realized it was not like any other scholarship. The process was grueling, and as usual, he fought the temptation of discouragement.
He made it to round two. Then round three. “I really wanted to be excited about it,” Quinon said, “but I wasn’t sure if I should. What if I don’t get it?” He heard a timely sermon at that point.
“I heard my pastor say it takes courage to expect something, because sometimes when you don’t get it, it hurts,” Quinon reflected. “But it’s worse not to expect something. Whether I get it or not, at least I am trying.”
Taking advantage of ‘undeserved’ opportunity
Settled into his new routine at North Central, Quinon is motivated by the opportunity. “Since I was selected, I want to give my 100 percent in every way. Sometimes it feels like I don’t deserve this, that I’m not supposed to be here; but here I am. And I’m going to take advantage it.”
A friend of Quinon’s reminded him he’s here because he worked hard. But Quinon sees that even if his hard work helped, what he’s done—in just five years—still seems impossible. “I believe in God,” Quinon said. “I might not be the best Christian; I make mistakes and sometimes they are the same ones. But I realize I need to stop trying so hard to understand this and accept what God has for me.”
As his story unfolds at NCU and beyond, Quinon delights in the things he has learned along the way. “Learning English has been one of the biggest challenges and one of the most amazing things,” Quinon said. “I am able to see different points of view, why people say certain things, and begin to understand that we just assume things in our culture.”
About Act Six
Making an impact is a core component of the Act Six program, which seeks to develop urban and community leaders to be agents of transformation on campus and in their communities. North Central is the fourth Minnesota school to partner with Urban Ventures in the Act Six program, which this year will award 31 full-tuition, full-need scholarships in the state. Far more than a scholarship program, Act Six Twin Cities develops leaders through a simple, but powerful, four-step strategy that includes recruiting and selection, training and preparation, sending and funding, and supporting and inspiring the next generation of community leaders.