Eastern Honors 3 Advocates at Cesar Chavez Awards

Stefan Keller, Maribel Sanchez and Freddy Cruz

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/24/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony occured on April 18. Those honored at the event were student Freddy Cruz ’18, Eastern academic advisor Maribel Sanchez and Stefan Keller of CT Students for a Dream. The keynote speaker was Latino poet José B. González.

Chavez was a prominent Latino-American civil rights activist, and his effective tactics made the struggles of farm workers the center of national attention. He co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, later the United Farm Workers union, in 1962, and his public relations approach to unionism has left a long-lasting impact on the Latin-American community.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez gave a welcome address that called attention to Chavez’s impressive legacy, and connected his role to those having a similar influence on today’s society. As a Hispanic woman, Núñez was well aware of the activist’s influence at an early age. She highlighted three of his values that are upheld at Eastern: advocacy for education, commitment to service, and preservation of culture.

While the fight for Latino rights is far from over, especially equal access to academic opportunities, Núñez pointed out that it is because of people like Cruz, Sanchez and Keller that there is hope for progress. “I think Mr. Chavez would look at the three recipients today and smile,” she said.

Cruz was the recipient of the student award. Consistently engaged in campus community, Cruz is the president of the Eastern club OLAS – Organization of Latin American Students – as well as a resident assistant (RA) and member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Cruz challenged his peers to take advantage of all the opportunities offered on a university campus. “Get involved with anything that’s going to take you to the next level,” he said. “Find those students who might not be where you are and help them elevate themselves.”

Sanchez, who works in Eastern’s Academic Services Center, received the faculty/staff award. She serves as an advisor to Eastern’s Dreamer students. Sanchez noted the power of the mentors she has encountered in her own life and said Chavez himself was a universal inspiration. “I can only hope to be half the person these people are to me and my students,” she said.

Keller, recipient of the community member award, graduated with his master’s degree in social work from the University of Connecticut in 2015, and works for CT Students for a Dream. An ally of undocumented students (Dreamers), Keller believes in working with students and educators to create open spaces for Dreamers on college campuses. “Part of that work is educating others,” said Keller. “All of us need to move to a place where we see that our world is not going to be what we want it to be without justice for all.”

Cruz was the recipient of the student award. Consistently engaged in Eastern’s community, Cruz is the president of the

Jose B. Gonzalez

Eastern club OLAS – Organization of Latin American Students- as well as a resident assistant (RA) and member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Cruz challenged his peers to take advantage of all the opportunities offered on a university campus. “Get involved with anything that’s going to take you to the next level,” he said. “Find those students who might not be where you are and help them elevate themselves.”

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Latino poet José B. González, who was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, and immigrated to New London at age eight. Gonzalez has authored numerous publications and received accolades including the New England Association of Teachers of English Teacher-Poet-of-the-Year award. He spoke on the importance of honoring service work, as the Cesar Chavez awards aim to do.