May 19th, 2002. I pause between steps to let the black graduation robe swish around my calves. My knees tremble with acknowledgement of where I am standing. Shadowed beneath the arena, I am prepared to follow my classmates into the graduation ceremony. My life has been geared toward this brief moment in time. As I hear the echo of “Katherine Elizabeth Reginato Carter” as Professor Linda Hunt speaks my name, chills run down my spine and my racing heart catches in my throat. A tear of joy threatens to spill over because I know Professor Hunt shares in the enchantment of this moment. Like a timeless snapshot, I master the handshake with President Robinson, accept my diploma and carefully step down the stairs to where other professors wait to congratulate me. I am now a college graduate. Not just any college graduate but one who has proven that regardless of adversity that through diligence and perseverance I will succeed.
My pursuit of a college education began when I was two years old. Leaning back into his avocado and mustard seed chair, my grandfather sweeps me onto his lap. I slid in close to his warm sweater-enveloped chest when he placed me on his strong legs covered by brown polyester slacks. In a booming voice he says, “Katie, let me see you write your name.” At two years old, my young hands were still learning how to hold a pencil and shape letters. Proudly, I take the pencil and paper and write my name as skillfully as my young hands can produce. As I look up at grandpa from where I sit, his face shines in pride at his blonde pigtailed granddaughter. With delight he says, “One day if you are well-behaved, I will send you to college to perfect this writing of yours”. Not knowing what college meant, I nodded happily and continued to practice my printing. As I grew into a lanky teenager, stories of my grandfather began to emerge.
My grandfather’s promise placed me on what Robert Frost called “The Road Less Traveled”. Leaving the suburban San Francisco Bay Area for the tall pines of my beloved Whitworth College campus, I pursued the individuality of the grassy road and took the one less traveled by. Respecting my grandfather’s wishes I stepped onto the path concealed by brush and pursued his dream for my life.
Born the first American in a long lineage of Italian farmers, Angelo Michael Reginato held a unique place in his family. Named after his grandfather, he brought within his namesake the struggles from an economically torn homeland to America where he would introduce the delicate balance of old world values with new world opportunities.
Lacking basic English skills, Angelo began the first grade failing academically. At a time when mastery of English was necessary to scholastic achievement, Angelo’s Italian heritage taught the dark haired boy hard work to overcome his linguistic differences. Each night following family chores of chopping wood, he would pull up a chair to the round timber table and crack open his books of foreign English words.
Angelo’s parents, two Italian-speaking immigrants, passed on the old world culture and language. Both illiterate and without basic English linguistics, Nonno Pietro and Nonna Caterina taught Angelo only Italian. At a time before multiculturalism played an important role in society, the white American population of the small Northern California town held strong prejudices against non-English speaking people. Allowing only white Americans to have the better paying jobs and mocking the Italian culture with disapproving glares, many second language speakers felt alienated from the community. Returning to his side of the railroad tracks, Angelo surrounded himself with a family that taught that regardless of his heritage and background, persistence and hard work would earn him success.
Though America is a global melting pot, it was the melting pot for white Anglo-Americans. The rest remained second-class citizens. Teased relentlessly for his broken English and Italian heritage, Angelo developed persistence to overcome his linguistic difficulties. Italian herbs were like a cloud of unfamiliar smells and the lighter skinned boys teased Angelo often for his cultural peculiarity. A teacher once smacked Angelo across the face, reminding him that he was second-class to other students. Often Angelo felt discriminated against and it followed him throughout much of his life. The memories of his childhood humiliation settled in his soul as a prejudice to overcome that would initiate future endeavors.
Living among a variety of races on Butterfly Avenue, Angelo learned firsthand about multiculturalism. At school, Angelo had to act American. Returning home at night he fell naturally into his Italian culture. This created a cultural schism, confusion for the little boy who desired to be part of the main culture while having to maintain his cultural identity.
Mastering the English language, Angelo began reading incessantly and excelling academically. Nono Pietro believed in the importance of education and encouraged Angelo and his other children to study hard.
Angelo’s linguistic struggles and the perceived disdain of his Italian heritage developed a complex character in this first generation American. Composed of many depths and desires he became an introvert, constantly worrying and forever passionate. Within his deep silence one could see strength to overcome any challenge.
The evening my grandfather drew me onto his lap at the age of two, promising to support a college education, he had no idea of the challenges I would face in the years to follow. Learning to write my name at the age of two, plus being able to count to one hundred and sing the alphabet in both Spanish and English, I masqueraded as a normal child.
Through second grade I often received exemplary grades. I struggled in school but my grades did not demonstrate my hidden learning difficulties. After being placed with a bitter third grade teacher, I could be heard saying how much I loved learning but hated school. My mom would place random science projects of crawling salt crystals and multicolored flowers on every windowsill in the house. Promising books of every shape and size, my mom reinforced my efforts weekly. Weekends were often spent picking crawdads from the local creek to playing sports or inhaling numerous books.
During the summer following my sixth grade year, my grandfather passed away leaving with me his legacy. As I prepared for high school, I began hearing stories of my grandfather Angelo and his high school and college days.
After he conquered all academic expectations, Angelo decided to pursue athletics. Though sensitive about being Italian in a dominantly white culture, he proved himself worthy through sports and no one ever teased him again once they saw his diverse athletic skills. In high school, Angelo played baseball, basketball and football. His passion for sports and his dream to become a coach led him to pursue a college education, something rare during that time for rich kids but nearly impossible for a poor Italian boy from the wrong side of the tracks.
Originally, Nono Pietro didn’t see the importance of college. A man working with his hands is respectable labor. When he saw Angelo succeed as a result of a college education he began to alter his view. As the oldest boy of seven children, Angelo had a prestigious role setting an example through discipline and hard work. Angelo’s six younger siblings all attended college through athletics, the youngest Caroline receiving a bachelor’s in English and a Master’s degree in Reading.
Accepting a football scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley, the adversity of Angelo’s youth made him an incredible collegiate athlete. One of the most poignant memories of my grandfather was his consistent message on how to overcome adversity. Growing up as a first generation American, he faced continuous challenges. His Italian descent made a case for constant mockery until he proved himself worthy of attention through his athletic skill in high school. He persevered. As an end on the 1938 Golden Bears football team, the "Dunsmuir Italian" took a short pass from Vic Bottari and ran it in for the winning touchdown in the 6-0 victory over arch rival Stanford. The annual duel between Stanford and Cal is commonly referred to as "The Big Game". His winning run in the '38 game is widely recognized as one of the greatest plays in "Big Game" history.
Throughout my life I’ve pondered the importance of recognition and excelling in some way that will allow me to make a significant mark in the world as my grandfather did. Reflecting back to my grandfather’s life, I realize that never once did he mention winning the Big Game or being one of Cal’s favored athletes. He did speak often on the importance of hard work and honesty. The more he succeeded throughout his life by owning a flourishing real estate business or having a successful marriage of fifty years, the more he used his life experiences to bring others up to his standard of success. His Italian heritage never left him. He honored hard work and persistence to overcome challenges, relishing honesty and reliability. It wasn’t until he reached his late 60’s that he finally reconciled his Italian heritage by visiting Castelcucco, Venetia, Italy, and the origin of the Reginato clan. In this trip he discovered the beauty of being Italian and the misconceptions his childhood led him to believe about Italians.
By following in my grandfather’s footsteps I overcame my learning difficulties and poor elementary education to prepare myself for the moment I’ve waited a lifetime for: walking across the stage at the Spokane Arena to accept my diploma. I’ve sat in classes with the most brilliant professors that astound me with knowledge beyond my capacity, stretching me intellectually while preparing me spiritually to do as my grandfather did to bring others to my level of success. There were moments these past two years during which moments of frustration came unnervingly close to making me feel like a failure. My team of family, friends and professors know my dream to graduate university and support my goal. On May 19th, 2002 I will walk the plank into an unknown future ready to utilize the lessons of persistence and strength my learning difficulties has offered these past twenty four years.