Jorge Ramos: USA, the mother of second chances

SPEECH: Jorge Ramos, June 18, 2015; UCLA Extension Graduation Ceremony

Once, many years ago–31 years to be exact–I was where you are right now. And I was a happy young man. I think of that moment and I still smile. I had made a bet with my life and it had paid off.

Just like you, I had enrolled at UCLA Extension to study journalism and television for one year. But for me it was very challenging. Yes, I know, I have an accent. But just imagine how my English was three decades ago. Sometimes I couldn’t even understand myself. That’s how bad it was. So I started from scratch.

As an immigrant from Mexico, everything was new for me. I had left my home, my family, my friends and all the expectations that life was going to be easy and predictable. This country and this university have been incredibly generous with me. They gave me the opportunities that my country of origin couldn’t give me.

Let me tell you something. You don’t become an immigrant because you want to. You become an immigrant because you have to. As French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “the happy and the powerful do not go into exile.”

In my case, I had to leave Mexico. I was a young reporter working for a television network when my third story on the air was completely censored. Back then, when Mexico was not a democracy, you couldn’t criticize the president in the media. Well, I tried and it didn’t work.

I was devastated. I didn’t want to be a censored journalist but I had a pretty good job and my career was just beginning. Many people suggested that I just let it go and move on to the next story. But I couldn’t. So, before being fired, I wrote a letter of resignation and I quit.

Some colleagues thought that I was crazy giving up the opportunity to work on television. But I knew that if I had accepted censorship for that one time, it would have happened over and over again, and I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror.

So I was left with no job, no money and, apparently, with no future. Now, however, I think that to quit that job was probably the most courageous and the best decision of my life.

Be true to yourself. That was the lesson. Don’t live the life that others want to impose on you. By the way, for many years I kept that letter of resignation as a badge of honor.

The second most difficult decision in my life was to immigrate, alone, to the United States. I sold my old car, got a few dollars, applied to UCLA Extension and came here with a student visa.

I still remember that moment. After landing at LAX, everything I owned – including my guitar – I could carry with both hands. That’s freedom. I’ve never felt freer in my whole life.

I learned English, I studied journalism for the first time in my life and exactly one year later, with a UCLA Extension certificate in hand, I got a job at the Univision station here in Los Angeles. Since then, Univision has been my home away from home. What was supposed to be a one-year experience has become a rich, long and incredibly exciting career.

The Nobel Prize winner in literature Gabriel Garcia Marquez once wrote that to be a journalist is the best profession in the world. He was right. It keeps you young and a rebel all your life. Nothing in the world is foreign to a good journalist.

Now, I’m so glad that I didn’t follow my father’s advice. He wanted me to become a doctor, an attorney, an engineer or an architect like him. I still remember that when I told him that I wanted to become a journalist, he told me: “But what are you going to do with that.”

Well, many years later, before he died, he would watch my newscast via satellite in Mexico City, and frequently called on the phone afterward to comment on my ties. We made peace before he passed away and it was beautiful.

He knew that I had made the right choice by coming to the United States and by following my passion. And too late in his life he realized he had made a huge mistake. As I told you, he was an architect. It’s not precisely that he loved architecture. But he chose that profession simply to satisfy his dad and to make a living.

His passion, however, was magic. Yes, he was a great magician. He was always doing tricks on us and the only time when he really laughed and had fun was he was performing his magic tricks.

So don’t be an architect if you really want to be a magician. Find out what you want to do with you life -it’s quite easy, it’s what sparks joy and enthusiasm in you- and stick with it.

Go where you have to go and do what you have to do. There is nothing worst in life than living in a place that you hate and spending every single day doing things that you don’t like.

Now, let me just finish by talking about the importance of second chances.

Scott Fitzgerald, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, once said that “there are no second acts in American life.” That only means he didn’t know Apple founder, Steve Jobs, and that he didn’t enroll at UCLA Extension.

This country is the mother of second chances.

We all make mistakes. Many mistakes. But I don’t know any other nation in the world in which you can reinvent yourself, after a big mistake, like in the United States.

There’s even a ritual. After you do something stupid -and we all do- first, of course, you get very upset, then you confess your mistake, apologize very publicly for it, you take a break for a few months and, if you are really sincere about it, you can come back reinvented.

Americans are so generous that, usually, they’ll give you a second chance.

Sometimes it is not that you make a mistake but that you happen to be born in a place where you don’t even have the chance to thrive. Billions of people on this planet are born like that. But here, in this country, many immigrants like me were given a second chance.

Something that we all have in common here is that we had a different life before. We were someone else. And then, we reinvented ourselves

Now, this is not an abstract observation. It doesn’t happen in vacuum. Somebody has to give you that second chance. And, for me, UCLA Extension gave me that second chance in life. It allowed me to reinvent myself.

I’m sure that many of you are as grateful as I am for that second chance. So in this afternoon of celebration let me say it twice: thank you, thank you.

Let me just finish with something more personal. Can you see what I have in my hand? It’s my certificate from UCLA Extension. The year is 1984. It came on the mail with a wonderful letter. It said: “Congratulations on completing the course requirements for the certificate in journalism…The training that you have received and the good work you have done, should prepare you for a successful career in journalism.”

Well, guess what? Back then UCLA Extension didn’t have graduation ceremonies. I missed the fiesta. So this afternoon, if you allow me, I want to graduate with you. This will be my graduation ceremony from UCLA Extension… 31 years later!

Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s new television news show, “America With Jorge Ramos,” and is a news anchor on the Univision Network. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, “A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.”

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