“What I Learned at UMKC”

Dee Evans, University Advancement, and Mrs. Agapito Mendoza

Speakers Learned Different, But Vital Lessons

As a trained mediator and civil rights officer, Rita Valenciano understands what is needed to secure change. She shared today what she learned at the University of Missouri-Kansas City with an audience of approximately 300.

The discussion for Valenciano to serve as keynote speaker at the eighth annual Agapito Mendoza Scholarship Breakfast began six months ago. Due to the clearance needed as an employee of the Department of Justice, the Division of Diversity and Inclusion realized Valenciano had to clear numerous hoops. Her directive: she can’t share specifics about her position.

“I was in Ferguson, Mo., during its uprising, and I know what happened there,” said Valenciano, “but I can’t share any of the details. I can have no media connections or discussions about what I know.”

Sometimes that is difficult, but Valenciano learned to handle it at UMKC, where she received her master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor of arts in sociology.

As a student, she heard Jesse Jackson speak at UMKC, and while she thought he was okay going in, she became a total fan after listening to his “I Am Somebody” speech. That was when she began to believe she was in fact “somebody.”

At UMKC, she also learned how to progress from “somebody” to an effective mediation professional. As a student, she was an activist, boldly stating “what we want.” As a mediator, she had to move beyond advocacy to serve as a neutral third party and ensure that all sides are heard.

“All manifestations of anger, all demonstrations have underlying causes,” said Valenciano. “I can mediate, train and find the best practices to help others. I learned that ‘I am somebody, and I must respect others.’ ”

She also learned about her heritage. In grade school, Valenciano said she sat in rows of seats with the other minorities and showed up dressed for a fun day at Fairyland, but was told that it was ‘not her day.’

“I learned that stereotypes are not necessarily bad. It’s just how they are used. When people start asking ‘why,’ then they are ready to make things better,” said Valenciano.

She spoke of the need to learn Spanish, pride in her Chicana heritage and patience at UMKC.

“Augie (Agapito Mendoza) and I didn’t see eye-to-eye. I was a student activist, a woman’s libber and a leader here, walking side-by-side with the men,” said Valenciano “Augie and I had differences; we were of the same generation, but our approaches were different.”

According to Valenciano, Mendoza was patient, calm and thorough. But, she relied on feelings and wanted things to happen immediately. In the 18 positions she’s held since she left UMKC, Valenciano has learned how to accomplish goals for herself and those with whom she works.

“At the Department of Justice, I have learned communications and respect for the common interests are needed to make a community better,” said Valenciano. She shared what she learned while attending UMKC and throughout her career. She summed it up with a quote that she’s kept since her UMKC days.

“Respect for the rights of others is peace.”

Following Valenciano, soon-to-be alumna and senior Cheyanne Youngs spoke about her years at UMKC so far. She is pursuing a bachelor of science in accounting and will graduate in May. Youngs recently learned she has been accepted into the master of science in accounting program, with a graduation date of May 2017.

A recipient of the Agapito Mendoza Scholarship, Youngs saluted those who support the scholarship. The scholarship honors his legacy of service, celebrates his love for Hispanic heritage, directly funds new scholars and highlights his work that continues across the community and campus through keynote addresses by local Latina/Latino leaders.

“Thank you to the Mendoza Family and to all who contributed to the Agapito Mendoza Scholarship Fund,” said Youngs. “It is your generosity that is making one of my dreams come true.”

Youngs’ dream is to leave the university with little debt and the scholarship plays a part in helping her realize that dream, as did her two part-time jobs. She is involved in numerous organizations, including a member of Avanzando, Beta Alpha Psi and the Dean’s Student Advisory Board, and currently holds two leadership positions with Delta Sigma Pi. Youngs has maintained a 3.55 GPA in her major and will intern this summer at the accounting firm PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In a unique plea for donations to the Agapito Mendoza Scholarship Breakfast fund, Norma Cantu, Ph.D., professor, Latina/Latino Studies Program, added to her credentials as noted author, poet and scholar.

With the music playing, she began her rap, “Giving Back,” performed to the tune of “Rap God.”

“Owe it to the kids, owe it to the future

Gotta give back.”

Youngs and other scholarship recipients will probably agree with Cantu – “Gotta give it back, never lookin’ back …”

|Wandra Brooks Green, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications


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