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From the Graduation Files: Latino immigrant achieves what he once thought impossible by obtaining college degree

Student completes college education with the help of a scholarship designed for "dreamers."

Anna Moseley  | 

News - Zuriel and parents

Godinez said his parents, Santiago Godinez and Maria Almaguer, supported him through every step of college.

To celebrate Lipscomb’s recent  May commencement, follow our Graduation Stories Series--From the Graduation Files--to read about the experiences of several May 2019 graduates who walked the stage in Allen Arena on May 4.

Zuriel Godinez was just about to give up on his dream of attending college in America, when divine intervention connected him with a man who provided him the means necessary to accomplish his goal.

Godinez, originally from a small village in Mexico, is a student in America thanks to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals federal program, also called the Dream Act, that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children to live in America.

“When it was time to go to college, I looked at several universities,” said Godinez. “I couldn’t go to any of them because, even though I had the grades to get scholarships, I wasn’t a U.S. citizen so I didn’t qualify for scholarships or financial aid. I was ready to give up hope and start applying to schools in Mexico, but my mom still had hope.”

A long line of connections finally pointed Godinez in the direction of Michael Spalding, a relationship that Godinez said opened many doors for him and for other DACA students.

“That relationship led to several others and even though I wasn’t sure where the connections would take me, I kept pulling the string. God finally led me to Dr. Spalding,” said Godinez.

In 2014 Spalding created the Nashville-based Equal Chance for Education scholarship after a friend of his was denied the opportunity for higher education because of her legal status.

“Zuriel and others like him deserve an Equal Chance for Education,” said Spalding. “I was the first in my family to attend college and it was made possible by a scholarship. This is my opportunity to give back. I believe an education is the best asset anyone can have to enable a successful career and fulfilling life.”

The mission of the Equal Chance for Education scholarship is to provide an equal chance for all students to achieve the American dream through the attainment of a college degree regardless of race, religion or nation of birth. ECE provides scholarships to "dreamers" in Nashville who are not eligible for student loans or financial aid because of their legal status.

When the scholarship was created, it was offered to one student. During its second year, the scholarship was given to 10 students attending three different universities. Five years later ECE has funded the education of more than 300 students at universities all across Tennessee.

News - Dr. Spalding and Zuriel

Dr. Micheal Spalding, creator of Equal Chance for Education scholarship and Zuriel Godinez, one of the first recipients of the scholarship.

During the interview process, Spalding offered Godinez advice and asked him where he wanted to go to college. Without thinking about it, Godinez blurted out Lipscomb.

“I don’t know why I said Lipscomb in that moment,” said Godinez. “Lipscomb was the first college I ever visited in middle school. I was in a program that helped latino students visit colleges and although my school visited three colleges, I was only able to go when they visited Lipscomb. I think it was God’s plan all along for me to come to school here.”

Godinez began attending American schools in the second grade, after his family moved here from Mexico.

“When I got to America, I didn’t speak any English so I basically had to start over in school,” said Godinez. “My teacher gave me a small Spanish-to-English dictionary and that is the only way I could communicate with my teacher and with my peers.”

Although his first few months in American schools were difficult, Godinez pushed himself to quickly learn English and said coming to the U.S. has provided him with opportunities for success.

“My parents said they came to the U.S. to give me a better opportunity. You hear that a lot, but I learned that ‘a better opportunity’ is basically a synonym for education. That is literally the best opportunity they can give me. My parents and Lipscomb have provided me with so many opportunities. Coming to America and eventually to Lipscomb has meant the world to me.” — Zuriel Godinez

During his time at Lipscomb, Godinez, a psychology major, worked for the admissions office, was a Presidential Ambassador, participated in Quest Week and was a member of two university-sponsored Latino clubs, Futuro and Raices.

With his college degree in hand, Godinez hopes to combine his psychology degree with his love for business and either attend graduate school or begin a career in which his two interests are intermingled.

“DACA also gives me permission to work in the U.S.,” he said. “It is definitely not a permanent solution. It feels like living in limbo because I never know when they will take my permission to live here away.”

With so many odds against him, Godinez was told by many, even some of his extended family, that for him, a college degree was impossible. With the help of his parents, Spalding and Lipscomb, Godinez graduated on May 4, with a Bachelor of Science in psychology.

“I had a lot of people tell me it wasn’t possible, and I guess I started believing them,” said Godinez. Thanks to my mom, I never gave up on my dream and I learned that Walt Disney was right when he said, ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’”