Student Spotlight

Javier Valdovinos: Successful leadership comes from self-acceptance

May 21, 2018 by Brandman University

Javier Valdovinos earned his Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Leadership in March. Getting there involved a journey of time, distance and self-discovery that Associate Dean Patricia Clark White called a true representation of the university’s mission and vision.

Here’s what he told his fellow Ed.D. grads at the hooding ceremony on May 19, 2018:

Chancellor Brahm and Javier Valdovinos
Chancellor Gary Brahm with Javier Valdovinos during the Southern Commencement on May 20. Photo by Kyusung Gong for Brandman University

We are reunited here to celebrate the beginning of a new life. Each of us hold a personal story ready to be told. I am sure these stories are full of sacrifices, struggles, and – for sure – many etceteras. Think about your own and reflect upon your journey – the battles you fought and the support you received. Yes, it was hard. My story is not different than yours. However, my story started far, far away from here, in a small village in the state of Guerrero in Mexico, more than half a century ago.

My parents instilled the importance of pursuing an education and sent me to Mexico City to study a professional career. Can you imagine a rural teenager in a city with a population of 24 million people? I was scared and, of course, I wanted to return to my hometown, but my parents insisted in not giving up. I am here today because of their persistence. That was the first lesson of resilience.

Unfortunately, organized crime took my father away, and we had no other option but to leave the country. Our family had to scatter in order to survive. Leaving my culture behind was one of the biggest sorrows I experienced in my journey. Working different low-paid jobs to provide for a new family of my own and balancing my professional development was almost impossible. Learning a new language, deciphering the confusing educational system, trying to fit in with a sometimes-not-friendly community was difficult.

However, this country provides opportunities to those with a strong desire to succeed. I decided to join the military and learn the culture because this would be my new home, but when everything started to make sense, and I could foresee a path to pursue a higher education, there’s a war. A war changes people’s plans, including mine. In preparation for deployment, an accident changed my life again: a roof collapsed and left me paralyzed. It took years to regain my now limited physical abilities. But my role as a father motivated me to teach my children and not to give up and set a new goal for my education, obtaining a master’s degree … which I did.

At that point my life was looking better, but unfortunately the scars of the war started to manifest with depression, etc. I could not balance work, family, personal relationships and health, and my body just gave up. Two heart episodes made me realize how fragile we are and the importance of knowing your limits. More changes were needed, but I still had to show my children the importance of an education, so I set another goal to reach: pursuing this doctorate. 

You may think that was a crazy idea, but it actually was a motivator to keep me going and demonstrate that anybody can achieve anything if the desire is strong enough. Only those really committed to excellence – like you – will be able to accomplish any goal, regardless of how high you aim. Like my story, yours is full of obstacles and finishing a doctorate is synonymous with perseverance and strength. …

Go out and tell your story. It is worth telling. As new leaders, we have the moral and academic obligation to narrate our personal struggle to inspire others, to tell them that anything can be done, it is just matter of having passion, passion,and writing one assignment at a time. I am sure this program changed your life, just like it changed mine. Each professor is proud to see their efforts and guidance paying off. Each participant in your research helped to shape your work and contributed to make you a better warrior. At least, it did to me.

While I was writing my dissertation, I learned from each one of my participants the necessity to be true and honest to myself and to accept me for who I am in order to become a successful leader. Talking to my participants made me realize the importance of coming out as a gay man to my family, friends and at work. This shows the transformational power of the Brandman University program.  Graduates, today we must also appreciate our families and loved ones who helped us in our personal transformations. Our success is theirs!

In conclusion, I am honored — actually I am really honored -- to have had the opportunity to congratulate you on the achievement of this milestone. You have distanced yourself from others. Never forget your time of sacrifice and always empathize with those who are struggling.  

Congratulations Class of 2018!

Video of the hooding ceremony

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