Ten years ago, with the nation reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Judkins Middle School AVID teacher Barb Babka gave her students an assignment: to look forward and write about the meaning of goals.
One of her students, Jorge Alcantar, wrote a nearly 1,000-word essay, part of which was published in The Tribune in October 2001. About six years later, Alcantar, the son of immigrant parents who both left school in the sixth grade to help their families, graduated from Arroyo Grande High with a 4.67 grade-point average and headed to Princeton University.
His mother, Maria Alcantar, said he recently graduated and is working for a law office in New York while deciding whether to pursue a graduate degree.
This year, when Babka instructed her students to write an essay on goals, she gave them a copy of the news article with an excerpt from Alcantar’s essay to discuss.
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She also mentioned Sept. 11, 2001, and told students that “goals give us hope.”
“In the darkest hour, when my middle school students were a little hopeless and sad, we wrote this goals essay,” Babka said to her students. “Just as much as 10 years ago, we need to be reaching for the future, if not more.”
As an extra incentive, she told students that whoever wrote the best essay might again have part of it published in the paper. The winning student, Samuel Ness, not only wrote an excellent essay, Babka said, but he had to pick it apart and convince his teacher that it was the best.
“He convinced me not only that he has excellent goals but the way he wrote about his goals was high level,” Babka said. “It was kind of dazzling.”
Samuel, 12, said the assignment helped him lay out his goals for his life, which include graduating from high school with a 5.0 GPA — possible, he writes, with the help of community service work — and from Stanford University with a master’s degree in business administration.
Samuel is one of about 65 students at Judkins Middle School in the Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, program, which helps steer students whose parents never obtained a higher education toward college.
“Goals are important to have, but most people don’t realize you have to march through hardships and accept sacrifices to complete a goal.
“Sacrifices, the death of most goals, are the hardest, and only the driven, goal-oriented people will withstand the hardships that come.
“Goals are the beat of your heart. They are how people know who you are, the kind of person you’re driven toward succeeding. The entire rhythm of your life is set through goals no matter how big or small they may be.
Following the tune in your soul, you’ll always know what’s right.”
Staff writer Nick Wilson contributed to this column.
Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.