Willimantic, CT – Leopoldo Navarro, resident assistant at Eastern Connecticut State University; The Rev. Aracelis Vázquez-Haye, an associate pastor in New London; and Yisel De Oleo-Gregory, an admissions counselor at Eastern, received the University’s 2016 Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards on April 27. The ceremony took place in the Student Center Theatre.
The Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Award recognizes individuals who best exemplify the teachings and example of Chavez, the late labor leader and human rights advocate who was committed to fairness, equity and justice for all people.
Each spring, the University selects individuals who have performed extraordinary service in support of the Latin-American community by either developing or contributing to programs or activities that focus on positive development of minority youth and/or foster minority educational opportunities and advancement.
Dimitrios Pachis, Eastern’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, said Chavez never had a formal education but often said that a real education comes from the heart. “An education cannot be imparted through books; it can only be imparted through the loving touch of the teacher,” Chavez once said. “What better books can there be than the book of humanity? The end of all education should surely be service to others.”
“Our three honorees have demonstrated exemplary leadership in service to the Latin American community, the Eastern campus and the community at large,” said Pachis. “They exemplify the values and beliefs of Cesar Chavez, and are a reaffirmation of the Latin American culture that has enriched this community for generations.”
Awards were presented in three categories: student, faculty/staff and community. Navarro, who won in the student category, is a senior majoring in Spanish. He migrated to the United States in 2009 from the Dominican Republic and graduated from Three Rivers Community College before transferring to Eastern in 2014.
Navarro serves as a resident assistant at Eastern and has been involved in organizations such as MALES (Man Achieving Leadership Excellence and Success), OLAS (Organization of Latin American Students) and the SGA (Student Government Association). He has earned Dean’s List honors several times and was also inducted to the National Spanish Major Honor Society. He plans to teach Spanish in New London and one day own a dance studio.
De Oleo-Gregory was honored in the faculty/staff category. A native of the Dominican Republic, she serves as a counselor in Eastern’s Admissions Office. De Oleo-Gregory has also worked at Windham High School as an ELL Tutor for non-English speaking students, and is pursuing a Master of Science degree in communication at Central Connecticut State University. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Naugatuck Valley Community College, and was chosen as a distinguished student in her graduating class. De Oleo-Gregory then transferred to Eastern and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Communication and Spanish in 2013.
Vázquez-Haye was recognized in the community category. She serves as associate pastor of the Church of the City in New London and Protestant Chaplain at Connecticut College and The Waterford Country School. She has served in several student development areas primarily in higher education, including as associate director of Unity House and Multicultural Center at Connecticut College. Vásquez-Haye has also served as an adjunct professor at Connecticut College, St. John’s University in New York City and Yale Divinity School. Vázquez-Haye obtained a Master of Divinity from Yale University, with emphasis in Christian Education focusing on youth and young adult ministry. Her Bachelor of Arts is from Eastern Connecticut State University and her Master of Education from Loyola University Chicago, IL.
José Gavez, who has used black and white film to create a powerful historical record of the Latino experience in America for more than 40 years, delivered the keynote address, saying the nation was blessed to have Chavez in the early days of the Chicano Movement to teach people how to organize and protest. “I am here today because I’m worried that we no longer know why Cesar Chavez was so important.” said Gavez. “Today, we carry the seeds of justice that Cesar Chavez planted into our workplaces, the voting booths, our families and into our volunteer work. We can honor our diverse heritages while including everyone. We can stand for justice, giving our voices to the voiceless.”