Albert Ojeda was a relatively unknown ASU student a few weeks ago.
But on Oct. 5, the 22-year-old political science senior got the chance to shine when he spoke at the White House’s first-ever community college summit.
“It felt like a dream,” Ojeda said.
He was chosen out of thousands of students across the nation to introduce Second Lady Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, after he shared his personal story.
“I guess I left an impression on them,” he said. “[Jill] Biden told me when they were planning the summit and they had to choose a student … they said ‘Why not Albert from Phoenix?’”
Biden met Ojeda last May in Tempe, where she came to a roundtable meeting to learn about the Maricopa-ASU Pathways Program, which helps students make easier transitions from the Maricopa Community College District system to the University.
Ojeda shared his experience as an Estrella Mountain Community College graduate and introduced the second lady at the summit.
The summit was designed to bring together community colleges, policy leaders and students to advance the White House’s plan to boost enrollment in higher education.
ASU, however, has kept a steady number in students transferring from community colleges.
In 2003 the University received 3,272 Maricopa Community Colleges students, while the latest numbers from 2008 show only an 11-student increase — 3,283, according to the ASU Fact Book 2008-09.
Ojeda’s mentor, Kent Hopkins, vice chancellor of enrollment management at ASU, said it was Ojeda’s “powerful story” that might have impressed Jill Biden in May.
Maria Harper-Marinick, the vice chancellor of the academic affairs at Maricopa Community College District, invited Ojeda to the roundtable meeting because he graduated from Estrella and “had a compelling story to share,” she said.
However, his transition from childhood to college was harder for him, Ojeda said.
His dad died when Ojeda was only 5 years old and he lost touch with his mother at the age of 6 after she became dependent on drugs. His aunt and uncle adopted him when his mother went to prison, he said.
“She just got out of prison last week,” he said. Ojeda doesn’t know if she’s following his story though. “She doesn’t keep in touch with me.”
Ojeda was also part of history when he met civil rights activist Cesar Chavez when he was 4 years old, he said.
Chavez co-founded the United Farm Workers, a labor union, with Dolores Huerta in the 1960s.
He said his grandparents were part of Chavez’s movement since its beginning in west Phoenix.
“My grandma used to make tortillas with Dolores Huerta,” he said.
His late grandfather’s advice was to always be active in the community, he said.
Even in high school, Ojeda was active in politics.
He interned at Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard’s office when he was 16 years old, he said.
Ojeda said he plans to go to law school after graduating from ASU and hopes to one day represent Arizona in the United States Senate.
At the White House, Joe Biden told Ojeda not to forget him when he gets into office, Ojeda said, recalling the vice president’s words: “Don’t forget me when you’re president.”
His story caught the attention of his peers and news organizations and that was challenging for him, he said.
“I did do a lot of interviews, and it was different for me,” Ojeda said. “But I just went along with it.”
Ojeda attributes his luck with being “in the right place at the right time.”
If he had not met the right people at Estrella Mountain Community College he would have never met Jill Biden, much less get invited to the White House, he said.
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