By Hector Salamanca

As I walked down the hallway, I noticed all the differences five years had made since being at McCombs Middle School in Des Moines. I had graduated McCombs as a 13-year-old boy with no aspirations to succeed, and I was now coming back to it as an adult with a mission to tell the Latino students of my old middle school a simple message: Be the next leaders of the Latino community.

As I watched the students file in, I knew this might be a tough crowd so I would have to stay on my toes to keep them engaged and to remind them that I was at the school to motivate them to succeed. Many of the students were shocked and unprepared when I started calling on some of their disruptive peers to join me on stage.

I proceeded to tell the students the challenges they will face as Latinos and how important it is for them to not just settle, but to overcome any and every obstacle they face. I told them about my background and how I would not let being undocumented hold me back -- and that they shouldn’t either.

I could see expressions of sadness, confusion or happiness on their faces as I told them my story and how I expected all of them to succeed both academically and personally. I ended the talk by saying that if only one of them were to listen to me and succeed and be leaders, I would be happy knowing I influenced their decision to pursue knowledge and not to settle.

Hector Salamanca is an AFSC Iowa intern and Dreamer who's helping immigrant youth organize for immigration reform. He recently graduated from a community college and will attend Drake University next fall.