Humble origins no barrier to success, Ehrlich tells Hispanic students at symposium

July 14, 2005|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

It's a long half-mile from the working-class Arbutus apartments where he grew up to the university classroom where he lectured yesterday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said. But he told the ambitious Hispanic high school students there that they can go just as far.

Addressing the first Maryland Hispanic Youth Symposium, a three-day event at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County designed to help young Latinos go on to college and successful careers, Ehrlich told students that humble beginnings are no barrier to success.

"The last thing I would have thought in 1965 when I was 8 years old, when UMBC didn't even exist and I was playing in these fields, is that I would be standing in a classroom here speaking to you as the governor," Ehrlich said. "There is no excuse for anyone in this country today to not succeed. ... Today in this country, given the access to education you have, you can do everything."

The governor upset some in Maryland's growing Hispanic community last year by calling multiculturalism "bunk" and "crap," and more recently by cutting funds for a Medicaid program that provided health care to legal immigrant children and pregnant women.

But his message yesterday wasn't about politics and policy but ambition and opportunity, and he was warmly received by the several dozen students.

Luis Borunda, a businessman and member of the Baltimore County school board who helped organize the symposium, said students spent time yesterday working in groups to think of ways to address concerns facing Latinos, such as teen pregnancy and financing for education. Those who do the best job of presenting their ideas will win scholarships, part of the $30,000 in financial aid that event organizers will dole out this week.

Today, representatives from colleges including Yale, Dartmouth and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are scheduled to speak to the students about the admissions process, essay writing and financial aid, Borunda said.

"We want to show these kids that these universities are interested in them," Borunda said.

Although Ehrlich's speech lacked political overtones, Democrats accused the governor of hypocrisy for preaching the importance of higher education when he blocked bills to hold down University of Maryland tuition costs and to allow Maryland high school graduates to get in-state tuition regardless of their immigration status.

"Governor Ehrlich has failed the immigrant community," Del. Victor R. Ramirez, a Prince George's County Democrat who was invited to attend the symposium, said in a news release issued by the state Democratic Party.

Although Ehrlich didn't address those issues in his speech, he told the students that he has shifted the focus of state financial aid programs from a merit-based system to one based on need, a change he said is of particular importance to working-class and middle-class families.

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