During an International Rotary Club meeting held last week in suburban Maywood, Cook County Commissioner and proud West Sider Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (7th) — who came in second in a head-to-head runoff race, the city’s first, against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015 — spoke about his political education, gained earlier in life and later on in the classroom.
My purpose in life since I was in high school has been to be a catalyst for change — to bring people together; to work to overcome racism and prejudice and ignorance; to provide opportunity and social justice to as many people as possible; and to become the first person in my family to receive a college education.
I did that, but it took a long time. After being elected to the Chicago City Council, after being elected the first Mexican American member of the Illinois State Senate — I finally got my bachelor’s degree.
The best thing that happened to me was my first defeat in political office (I was running for my second term as a state senator). After I lost, I went back and sat in classrooms with people much younger than me and I paid my dues in order to get my bachelor’s degree.
The reason I didn’t have a degree in the first place was because I was such a busy body. I had two incomplete grades in what subject? Political Science. I had signed up and dropped them because I was so busy protesting the university, taking over the chancellor’s office, negotiating to get a Latino center on campus, fighting for the recruitment and retention of more minority students on campus — stuff like that.
But once I went back to school, I was totally focused. So much so that after getting my bachelor’s degree, I immediately enrolled in my master’s degree program. I had perfect attendance. And again, I was sitting in classrooms with people much younger than me.
I taught them about life, politics and betrayals and how to follow your own path even though, at times, you’re the only person marching. The proudest moment of my master’s degree experience, though, was when I graduated — I wore the cap and gown and everything — and my mother attended the ceremony [before she died].