Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Activist Watsonville High student wins prestigious scholar award

This is awesome! A wonderful example of the talent in our communities.

"There is enough love and good will in our movement to give energy to our struggle and still have plenty left over to break down and change the climate of hate and fear around us." That's for you Luis! - la Paty


Donna Jones | SJ Mercury News

In sixth grade, Magge Rodriguez was the youngest member of the activist Watsonville Brown Berets.

By seventh grade, she was traveling to Sacramento to lobby for education issues.

As a junior at Watsonville High School, she helped organize the first homecoming parade through the downtown in decades.

This year, as a senior, she was named Watsonville High's student of the year.

She's political, she's got tons of school spirit and now the 18-year-old is the winner of a prestigious Gates Millennium Scholars Award, a scholarship funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will pay for her education through a doctoral degree.

She's also won the 2008 Princeton Prize on Race Relations and will travel to Princeton University on May 1 to pick up the award.

She's been accepted to UCLA, and has been put on the waiting list at Yale.

Her plan: Study hard, earn a law degree and come back to Watsonville to defend farmworker rights.

"I watched my parents come home from work tired and in pain," said Rodriguez, whose parents worked in the fields when they first emigrated from Mexico more than 20 years ago. "They gave me the opportunity to go to school so I feel it's my duty to educate myself and give back to the farmworkers so they have a better life."

Rodriguez, a petite teen with long, wavy dark hair, credits the Brown Berets for putting her on her current path. She knew she wanted to get involved, but the Berets helped her find a way, she said. With the group, she's advocated for education and immigrant rights, against gangs and violence and worked on election campaigns.

In particular, activist lawyer Luis Alejo, a founder of the Berets, is a mentor. Rodriguez said he not only helped her find ways to be active politically, but also helped her prepare for college.

"I cannot say how proud many of us are of Magge, who has dedicated herself to improving our schools and community," Alejo said in an e-mail. "She is an exemplary role model to the youth of Watsonville, especially young Latinas."

Watsonville High School Principal Murry Schekman is a fan, too. He said when he came to the school last year he kept hearing about this group, the Brown Berets.

The group, which dates to the mid-1990s, has ruffled feathers in the town, as much for members' sometimes militant expressions as for their politics.

Schekman said people told him he needed to meet Magge. He was impressed. He said, for example, when students wanted to walk out over immigrant rights, she helped keep the focus on immigration without losing class time.

"It doesn't get better than Magge Rodriguez," Schekman said. "She's an athlete. She's a leader on campus."

Of her accomplishments as a school leader, Rodriguez said she's most proud of pushing to get all classes, instead of just seniors, active in homecoming to bring the school together.

But she said her most important work was on the Williams lawsuit, a class action suit filed in 2000 that forced the state to address inequities between schools and to ensure every school was clean and safe and that students were provided with proper materials.

That, she said, she didn't do for herself, but for future generations, in particular, her 7-year-old brother Emmanuel.

"He's already saying he's going to Yale," she said. "He's the big reason I'm work so hard."

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