Evelyn Ruiz is a junior at Northeastern Illinois University studying Communications and Marketing. She was part of OneGoal staffer E.M. Miller’s 2015 Cohort and was a keynote speaker at the 2018 OneGoal-Chicago Graduation Gala. This is a condensed version of her speech.
This year makes me a “Year Five” Fellow. I know some of you are like “Whoa, there’s five levels to this?!” OneGoal technically ends after Year Three, but it’s still such a big part of my identity. I’m a recent graduate of Arrupe College of Loyola University and graduated with my associate’s degree before transferring to Northeastern Illinois University— but let’s talk about the third year of OneGoal; the year when Fellows head to college.
Year Three is different. College was a whole new world to me. I realized I was old enough to do certain things, but not old enough to do others. For example, I remember having the sudden urge to raise my hand to ask permission to use the bathroom. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I didn’t have to ask. I could just simply get up and go. Some of the independence was scary. There were new opportunities waiting for me to just reach up and grab them, but I didn’t always feel ready.
My relationship with Miller, my Program Director, started during my sophomore year at Chicago Academy High School, in English Lit. I despised reading in every way, shape or form and Miller was my English teacher. I think you can imagine how often we butted heads. But through OneGoal Miller guided me through tough situations in which I just wanted to give up, beginning with my junior year, when I took the ACT four times and still got the same score of 16 each time. They pushed me because they saw the potential in me that, at the time, I didn’t realize I had.
Miller was the first person to tell me how much better I could do and how WE were going to make it happen.
Our relationship is so much more than a OneGoal Program Director and Fellow. Miller is my mentor, the first person I call when I need advice on big and little things— and a friend. An example of the relationship that I built with Miller happened during my senior year of high school. My college list only included out-of-state schools no less than four hours away. Unfortunately, my parents had different ideas. I was told that there wasn’t any money left and that I couldn’t go away because they didn’t think I was mature enough. I was heartbroken. Instead of realizing my dreams of dorming, walking through the quad, and gaining the freshman 15, I had to face the reality of staying at home.
Miller worked with me to understand what I was looking for and was able to help me make a decision that set me on a new path— Arrupe College at Loyola University. At first, I was not fully convinced because my heart was set on leaving the city and instead I would be in the heart of Chicago. But when I started Arrupe, I realized that Miller had been right. Even though I was living at home and commuting to college, which hadn’t been my plan, I quickly learned that going to school right downtown was a world apart from my neighborhood in Belmont Cragin.
As a freshman in college, I had to get used to the fact that 4th period wasn’t my OneGoal class but instead was Art Renaissance and today’s topic was the 15th century. It was especially hard for me to get used to dealing with things on my own. Luckily, I had one of the best Program Directors out there— Miller. Whenever I needed help with my FAFSA, they were the first person I would call. Whenever I posted about how I was slowly dying because of finals week, I’d get a message saying, “Let’s get coffee.”
The first weeks were rough, but Miller was there. We texted each other almost every day for the first two months and then, slowly, that started to fade; not because of anything bad, but because it was time for me to use the step stool and take my independence. Miller let me know that they were available to help me whenever I needed it, but that they wouldn’t be checking in every day. Miller showed me the door, but I had to turn the knob and walk through it on my own.
Year Three was about finding myself. Miller and OneGoal were there to help me become a successful college graduate. Now, two years later, I’m a junior at Northeastern Illinois University, I have many friends on campus, and I can see how far I’ve come. I realize that the champions in my life, my parents and Miller, helped me make the choice that was right for me in the long run.
Now, I’m graduating in 12 months.
I plan on using my degree in communications and marketing to help make a difference in the nonprofit world. It’s because of OneGoal that I have an appreciation for the amount of love and good that comes from nonprofit work, and I want to continue on this path. It’s because of the work that OneGoal does that students like myself have a chance. It’s because of OneGoal that the number of Chicago students who enroll in college is growing. It’s because of OneGoal that students who need that extra help can get it. It’s because of OneGoal that graduating from college is no longer a dream but MY GOAL. Period.