A child of Salvadoran immigrants said his success and resiliency is the product of his upbringing during the Hispanic Heritage Month program Oct. 6 in the Bldg. 6 auditorium.
Keynote speaker Jesse Mejia related his story of learning to accept mentorship and persevering in the face of adversity to the workforce at Naval Support Activity Philadelphia.
Following a successful corporate career, Mejia founded a firm that encourages others to others to apply to business school and earn their masters of business administration.
Mejia said he was raised in South Central Los Angeles, a neighborhood of hard-working people that had goals.
“It was my neighborhood and I grew from there and I was lucky,” Mejia said. “I say I was lucky because I had a mentor in 7th grade that said to me, ‘Jesse, I want you to think about education at a level that does not get spoken about here.’”
Mejia was encouraged to apply to Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in New Hampshire, to improve his educational opportunities at what is considered one of the most prestigious prep schools in America. Mejia said that few of his classmates shared a background similar to his.
After graduating from Exeter, Mejia attended Syracuse University and graduated with a degree in business administration from Georgetown University with $103,000 in student loan debt.
Mejia said that the amount he owed prevented him from qualifying for his first home loan. So he decided to pay it off as quickly as possible, and was able to do so in two years.
“There were sacrifices that were required,” Mejia said. “And I share that story to tell you that with enough grit, you can figure things out.”
It was during that time that Mejia encountered another mentor at work who advised him to be open to any opportunities to advance his career.
“He said to me, ‘Jesse, the way to move ahead is to never say no. If the company presents you with an opportunity, don’t say no.’” Mejia said.
Mejia would learn that saying yes to those opportunities also meant saying yes to the challenges that come with it. The company would transfer him from Los Angeles to Sacramento, to Phoenix, to Philadelphia and to Detroit.
By that time, Mejia had gotten married and was commuting on the weekends to his wife who worked and lived in Washington D.C.
“That’s resilience, my friends,” Mejia said. “Because when you have to figure it out, you figure it out.”
Mejia said that Latino culture and American culture share the same values of hard work and commitment. He asked the audience to think about their colleagues and look for the values shared among their diverse cultural backgrounds.
“Look for the similarities, look for the stories of resilience, look for the mentors,” Mejia said. “With the spirit of diversity, we celebrate our heritage and our culture, not to highlight our differences, but to demonstrate our similarities.”
Grisel Velazquez, a contracting officer with the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Subsistence supply chain, said she appreciated how Mejia wove together the themes of resiliency, mentorship and diversity in his presentation.
“I think it’s great that he shared with us the experience of his past,” Valazquez said. “We all here have opportunities in the United States.”
The Hispanic Heritage program was sponsored by the DLA Troop Support Equal Employment Opportunity Office and NAVUP Weapons Systems Support EEO Advisory Committee.