Cesar Hernandez rushed through the front door of his San Antonio home breathless with excitement over some amazing news: The University of Northern Iowa had just offered him a free education.
His parents were less enthused.
"Cesar, I don't want you to go," his father told him.
It sounded "too good to be true to them," Cesar admits now. So he explained carefully that the offer was for real - and would fulfill his yearning for a four-year college degree, which he traces back to his childhood and some advice given by his dad on a summer day in 1991.
That was the day an 11-year-old Cesar and his father, mother, four sisters, and three brothers squeezed out of an old Ford van after a 1,400-mile drive from San Antonio to Wisconsin's farm fields.
There, hunching over a row of cucumbers, Cesar picked vegetables alongside his family members, the acres rolling out in front of him. He recalls his dad, a high school graduate from Mexico who speaks only Spanish, trying to persuade him to one day attend college.
"The sun was hot, I was sweating, and the mosquitoes were biting me," Cesar says. "My father was in the row next to me. He says: 'Do you always want to do this the rest of your life?' I said, 'No way, there has to be something better.' I decided right then I would go to college someday."
Eventually Cesar persuaded his skeptical dad to board an Iowa-bound flight with him to check out UNI firsthand.
The pair was met at the airport by UNI officials and taken to a local Holiday Inn. At banquets during the week, they were greeted by faculty, President Robert Koob, and friendly students.
Cesar's father was impressed, too, that "everything was so green" compared with the brown Texas landscape. Afterward, his father told Cesar he would be "in good hands." It was the blessing he needed.
Cesar, a soft-spoken computer science major, has been elected president of the Hispanic club and is making many new friends. He is also studying harder than he ever has in his life, but he says he's not worried that the academics will be too hard.
"It's a lot more work," he says of his studies here. "But whenever it gets difficult, I just remember that this is easy compared to working in the fields."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society