violeta valladares reflects on her experience as the mother of four westmont students and a member of the parents council
“This is the first place where we feel genuinely accepted and even celebrated,” my husband said during our son Roberto’s first day at Westmont. Moving from Guatemala, Central America, was an easy decision since our country was going through a civil war and it was unsafe to raise a family there. Living in the United States was a different story. We’ve experienced much prejudice since moving to California in 1984. People often assumed we were Mexican (we’re Guatemalans) and that we’re uneducated (my husband is an engineer and I am a teacher). But at Westmont we found a loving environment, and everyone welcomed us with open arms.
We’ve been blessed with four children: Roberto, Cándida, Clarissa and Fernando Valladares. Roberto and Cándida graduated from Westmont with double majors in chemistry and biology in 2008 and 2009, Roberto summa cum laude with major honors. Clarissa is in her third year at Westmont, and our youngest, Fernando, has just started his first year. The four of them are quite different but they all chose Westmont for its academic excellence and because it really is a home away from home.
I first heard about Westmont from a colleague at a teaching conference at UCSB. On my drive back, I stopped to check it out since we were looking at colleges for Roberto. The drive up to the campus on winding streets covered with trees impressed me with its beauty. It was a Saturday and the offices were closed, but a student asked me if he could help and offered to give me a tour. He was an art major and couldn’t have been nicer. I thought that if that was the kind of student Westmont produced, I would definitely want my son to attend. On my way out, I stopped at the rock underneath the pine trees at the entrance and prayed to God that He would open up those doors for our son. I picked up a pine cone and left. When I came home I was excited and told my husband, Julio, and Roberto about it. With a sad face Roberto told us he knew about Westmont because of its excellent pre-med program but that it was “just too expensive.” He didn’t even tell us about it because he knew it was “just way outside our means.”
Trusting in the Lord, Roberto and I went to Westmont to meet with Ben Shaver in the admissions office. Roberto talked with him about being an A student, being involved with missions trips and working part time as an automobile mechanic. Ben told him he would be a good match for Westmont and gave him confidence in applying. As we walked out, we prayed at the fountain behind Kerrwood Hall and asked God for a miracle. When Roberto got accepted we cried. Then came the challenge of making it happen. Diane Horvath in the Office of Financial Aid explained the whole process to us. We didn’t know what it all meant and were dismayed by all the paperwork. Seeing our circumstances, she was very kind in providing scholarships for Roberto in order to attend, and the rest we took out as a Parent Plus Loan. She even helped me filled out all the forms.
Without the financial aid that Westmont provided, it would have been impossible for Roberto to attend. Julio and I are incredibly thankful! Roberto had four wonderful years, got the Chemistry Graduate of the Year award, was accepted to eight top medical schools, and is now in his second year at Stanford Medical School.
Roberto encouraged his siblings to attend Westmont because he grew academically and spiritually there and developed life-long friendships with students and faculty. After graduating from Westmont, Cándida did a medical internship in Argentina and is thinking about being a doctor or a physician’s assistant. Clarissa, a double major in kinesiology and anthropology, is excited about spending next semester in Spain for her minor in Spanish. Every year Westmont has been generous in their scholarships and grants.
When Fernando chose Westmont over Pepperdine University, we weren’t surprised, and he received a generous financial aid package. Both my husband and I work hard, but we’re not rich enough to pay for all the costs and not poor enough to qualify for federal or state aid. But Westmont has provided us with the means to make our children’s dreams come true. We know they’re getting a great education and they’re in a place with an incredible wealth of opportunities to serve God. They all love the Lord and want to serve Him, and Westmont is helping them achieve that.
Westmont has also been a blessing for Julio and me. During our second year, we were invited to join the Parents Council. Serving with other parents has made us feel honored, and we’ve made great friends. Our story has helped Hispanic families see the true value of a Westmont education and to pursue higher education. We’re ecstatic to be a part of Westmont. Praise God!