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Conexiones Talk from the 10th Annual Hispanic Achievement Awards

Keynote Speaker: Carlos Lopez

I am Carlos Lopez Gonzales, son of puertorriqueño José López from Vieques, PR, and chicana Raquel María Gonzales from East Los Angeles.

I'm very blessed and honored to be able to share this evening with all of you: a night of achievement, of celebration, and the beginning of many successes for the future and the next great generation.

But achievement doesn't come without a challenge through which to show your resolve, what you're made of. Each person in the room has overcome adversity at some point of their lives and it wouldn't be an understatement to say that most of us overcome obstacles every day.

I grew up in City Terrace, an East L.A. suburb and went to Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School from Kindergarten through the 5th grade. During the start of the 1st grade, however, my parents who had been married for 27 years, decided to unfortunately part ways. My other 3 brothers also had left the household and had families of their own (currently I have 25 nieces and nephews, long story), so for a brief period my sister acted in part as my quasi-mother, me being the youngest in the family. My father worked very long hours in the warehouse business, my mother simply put, wasn't around, so things were very stressful…to the point where I developed a severe stuttering problem that took 3 & ½ years to treat. (Thank you Ms. Ribnickar, the kind speech teacher who helped me get over that hurdle and to you Miss K (Kargodorian) who sat down with me after class and would speak to me about courage and that there is always a way to succeed.)

Almost 2 years into the situation, my father remarried…his high school sweetheart…the lady who existed before my mother was even in the picture and who he'd been married to 30 years earlier. Believe it or not, she was my father's 1st and 3rd wife. Meet retired history teacher of 32 years Carmencita Carrillo Romero, who everyone knows as simply "Cita".

Her arrival helped to establish a healthy balance to all of our lives. She certainly kept my Dad in check. While I was in 5th grade she convinced my father to retire early and return to their native land. He had after all been living in CA for 35 years. Perhaps due to the increased gang violence in the neighborhood, or to improve their health, or it could have even been a vision, my father, stepmother and I moved to Vieques, PR.

Bear in mind that my parents had raised us in only one language, English (maybe so that they could argue in Spanish), which in my opinion was so sad given our rich heritage. It also came to haunt me as I was about to kick off the 6th grade in an all Spanish speaking environment. My stepmother had a strong influence within the Vieques school system (perhaps because she'd been the teacher of many of the employees there as well back in the day) and refused to have me repeat the 5th grade due to a language issue and had me placed with the crème de la crème in homeroom 6-1.

I won't lie to you, there were tears, and I did miss California and my siblings out there in CA, things were tough, even the stuttering made a comeback. This time around, Dad and Cita took it upon themselves to make sure that I not give up and take the challenge head on. One thing about Vieques is that it is sort of an isolated island paradise with about 9 thousabd inhabitants (where if you need to get to Walmart you need to hop on a boat for an hour to mainland Puerto Rico), so everybody knows and looks out for everyone else and most have very high expectations. Most of my stepmom's family had gone to college. Even my brother Henry, fruit of Dad and Cita's first time around was a doctor. With that said, at 6th grade graduation I was awarded "La Medalla de la Superación", having become the 2nd ranked student in the class, conquered the stuttering for good as well as the language barrier.

From then on I was always a top ten student…all the way through High School. Even though I was putting forth genuine effort to get ahead, I had the privilege of counting on an entourage who believed and supported me, and it was time to start giving back. Nothing shows gratitude like the art of emulation. I took on all the opportunities to give back: 4H, Police Athletic League, Church, Science Bowl & Math Bowl teams, tutoring. That entire package of hard work, team player attitude, having a great supporting cast, being proactive and disciplined paid off. By the time I was in the 12th grade I was the Math and Science teams captain, made all region basketball and volleyball, coached 2 youth basketball teams, aced the SATs (College Board Examination)and had participated in a NASA sponsored Apprenticeship Program for Minorities at Georgia Tech and Cape Canaveral. Now how many people do you know that have actually been on a space shuttle, just a few months before launch? Now you do. Spaceshuttle Atlantis in '94…back in a time a long ago called the XX Century.

GPA-wise I was really never the top ranked in my class, but at HS graduation I was awarded the coveted Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award. Just like you might be asking, I also asked why? The answer that was given to me was that: "No one cared as much as you did, no one dared to be as multifaceted, or pushed the limits, or did their craft with as much pride joy and humility…that it has never been about being the best based on numbers alone but being a great citizen as well…it's about representing.

My next stop was La Universidad de Puerto Rico-Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez (a.k.a. El Colegio) where I majored in Mechanical Engineering. Now that you have your sights on college studies and beyond let me let you know that more challenges will come your way. The being away from home & the cooking, the time you'll struggle to pass that thermodynamics class and the occasional party (be responsible) can be nerve-wracking.

Remember more than ever that you'll be accountable for your actions, many of you will need to be your own disciplinarians, you will further discover who you are, make connections, need to perform well and someway keep a healthy balance. Find healthy ways to mitigate stress and manage your time. A healthy hobby can help a lot. Join student and professional societies, work your presentation and soft skills, gain hands on experiences in your field…Coops, Internships…have mentors…be mentors…we all need Conexiones (pun intended) in the world out there. Above all, cherish all those times and the ones to follow.

During my senior year at El Colegio, my father suffered a car accident and fell into a deep depression and by Graduation time, due to his emotional stress, nobody from my family was able to attend, ah, all but the my best friend Tzaitel, who I met in sophomore year in Italian class. She was the sole representative of the Universe to me that day. Who will put the world on their shoulders for you when you need it the most?

When I graduated from UPRM (with honors), due to the rough times that the island's industry was going through, I couldn't land a job. Thanks to the connections and skill-set developed through collegiate job fairs, my participation in ASME and my undergrad research, within 3 months I landed my first job…which led me to jump the pond back to mainland USA in 2001.

Since then I've made MD my home and have worked for a number of industries (government, defense, postal and commercial) through companies such as the Department of the Navy, NGES, Emerson Power Transmission, even got caught up in a 14,000 people laid off, and returned to NGES again in 2009. There will always be highs and lows. Some key things that I've learned are that: not everything is money, do your research before thinking that the grass is greener elsewhere, don't burn your bridges, never stop learning, remain marketable by improving yourself and skill-set, give back, volunteer (SHPE, Boy Scouts, Sierra Club, among others)…repeat. Remember that as the world evolves, so will the demands of your career and it's up to you to keep up.

My career has taken me to places all over the world in a number of different Engineering capacities, not just Mechanical. I've been a Mechanical Designer, Flight Test Specialist, Operations Engineer, 1st Line Manufacturing Supervisor, Life Cycle Test Engineer, and now Reliability Engineer.

There's so much more that I'd like to share, but tonight isn't about me…it's about you. So get up, get out there and dare to be exceptional. Young men and women, the future is in your hands. We all salute and congratulate all of the awardees and I urge you to continue to make us proud and REPRESENT. If I can make it, so can you.