Kevin Salazar ’17 has heard this saying all his life. “My mother used it as a motivation for me,” he said. “She always told me that the hard work and dedication put in today will pay off later.”
Salazar took the message to heart.
As a child, he watched his parents make sacrifices as they planned for a better future. Until he was 16, Salazar and his sister lived with their mother in San Itztapa, Guatemala, while his father and brother lived in Massachusetts. The elder Salazar’s status as a permanent resident allowed him to spend just two weeks each year with his family in Guatemala. The rest of Salazar’s contact with his father was by telephone. While the arrangement was challenging, Salazar now recognizes the strength and devotion his parents needed to make it work.
When Salazar was 15, the rest of his family’s visas came through. His mother’s required her to travel immediately, but Salazar and his sister had to wait nine months. During that time, they lived with their grandmother and Salazar assumed primary responsibility for his sister: He assisted her with homework, attended school events and helped her navigate the changes in her life. He also managed the household finances. The challenges made Salazar grow up quickly, and when at last he arrived in Massachusetts, he felt like a different person.
Salazar spent two months working with an English tutor before he left Guatemala and had only a basic knowledge of the language when he enrolled at Malden High School. Though he had been a junior in Guatemala, school administrators recommended he enroll as a freshman to give him time to learn English before taking more advanced classes.
In his first semester, Salazar took intro courses, including English as a Second Language, ESL 1. He recorded his classes and listened to them again at home. By his second semester, he had jumped from ESL 1 to ESL 3. As a sophomore, he enrolled in honors-level courses. By his junior and senior years, he was taking AP Chemistry and, remarkably, AP English, the most challenging class in which he’d ever enrolled. He spent an extra hour with his English teacher after school every day, and with her help and his dedication, he passed.
The seeds of academic success were not the only ones Salazar was planting. By his senior year, he was involved in life outside the classroom, reviving the Hispanic-Latino Club, co-founding a Cross-Cultural Club and volunteering for the Special Olympics.
He also began planting the seeds of career exploration. As a sophomore, Salazar took a job at Boston College making stir fry and burritos every Friday night. He soon moved on to a better paying position at McDonald’s and three months later, he was promoted to shift manager. Though he enjoyed the job, Salazar was intrigued by the health professions. During a routine eye exam, he asked his doctor about the field of optometry. By the end of the visit, Salazar had secured a position working in the office and decided to quit his McDonald’s job. Though the change meant taking a pay cut, he believed the medical experience would be more beneficial.
He was right. In his new role, Salazar learned to repair glasses, test eye pressure, work with insurance companies and understand office management. More important, the experience helped him decide to pursue a degree in health care management.
Onward and Upward
Salazar knew a Colby-Sawyer student from Malden and visited campus as part of his college search. He instantly realized that Colby-Sawyer was where he wanted to be. He applied early and decided if he weren’t admitted, he’d enroll at a community college and try again the following year. Luckily for Salazar and Colby-Sawyer, he didn’t have to wait.
Salazar has thrown himself into Colby-Sawyer life. He loves his classes and the relationships he’s developed. “I have never been alone at Colby-Sawyer College,” he says. “From professors and the Student Learning Collaborative to RAs, friends and staff members, there’s always someone willing to help.”
Salazar has also become one of those people willing to help. He founded the Hispanic-Latino Club and serves as its president. He is a member of the Medical Reserve Corps. He is an event manager in Student Activities and has been a director with the Emerging Leaders Program. He serves as a resident assistant, acting as a peer adviser. The experience, he says, has been “amazing,” and though his passion for health care management remains, he is also considering a career in college student affairs.
With his senior year underway, Salazar’s mind is not only on his own career path but also on the contributions he can make to the world. He’s added a sociology minor with a concentration in race and ethnicity to his studies. With the Hispanic-Latino Club, he’s partnered with the international organization Manos Unidas, initiating a project to bring educational resources to poor Guatemalan children.
Salazar is pursuing a post-graduation summer position with Amigos de las Americas, which places young people in volunteer positions in Latin America. He hopes to be a director, managing a group of high school students on a project in Ecuador. From there, Salazar isn’t sure where life will take him. Whether he enters health care or student affairs, though, he’s committed to giving back to the Hispanic and Latino community through service and education. “I’ve had people who helped me throughout my whole life,” he says, “and I want to be able to help someone else.”
Siembra hoy y cosecharas mañana. For Kevin Salazar, it’s a way of life.
Mary McLaughlin has served as the director of Residential Education for 20 years and is the 2016 recipient of Colby-Sawyer’s Judith Pond Condict ’62 Award for Excellence in Service. In 2010, she was recognized with the Gown Award for her efforts in autism awareness. Mary holds a B.A. from the University of New Hampshire and an M.Ed. from the University of Vermont.