LOS ANGELES, Calif. - At Garfield High School in Los Angeles, a group of former students of a Bolivian-American teacher who transformed their lives were emotional as they celebrated the issuing of a U.S. postage stamp with an image of their beloved educator, the late Jaime Escalante.
"I can never talk about about Mr. Jaime Escalante without tears," said Elsa Bolado to the Los Angeles Times at a Saturday event commemorating the new "Forever" stamp of Escalante, who died of cancer in 2010.
Bolado said Escalante did not have any "magical teaching methods or tricks," but just made students like her in the predominantly working-class Hispanic high school work harder than they had ever been challenged to work.
"He gave us confidence. And now when we run into problems, we don't shy away from them," said Rosa Gutierrez, who was his student in 1989, told the L.A. Times, who became an architect after Escalante urged her to take a look at the Parthenon's beauty.
Saturday's event at Escalante's former high school follows the unveiling of the stamp last Wednesday, July 13. Top U.S. officials joined leaders from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) as well as Escalante's son and others at the ceremony, which took place in Washington, D.C. during LULAC's annual conference.
At the event, the late educator's son, Jaime Escalante Jr., said, "My father always tried to do his best at whatever he did and he did it with pride. It is truly an honor for our family," as he choked back tears.
Actor Edward James Olmos, who played Escalante in the acclaimed movie "Stand and Deliver," said at the unveiling that honoring Escalante "gives us a sense of who we are, a sense of dignity, of fortitude. I don't know one president, one pope, one engineer, one sports giant, one astronaut, that could have done it without a teacher."
The movie depicted real-life events such as the the fact that testing authorities questioned the top scores that Latino students obtained in the Advanced Placement Calculus test after taking Escalante's classes.
The good news at the predominantly Latino Garfield High School is that the emphasis on academic excellence and confidence among the students has had lasting repercussions. The school's Academic Decathlon team ranks seventh in the state and 14 nationwide, and about 9-in-10 seniors go on to college.
At the stamp's unveiling on Wednesday, U.S. Education Sec. John King, who went to an inner-city high school, said "I am here today and I am alive today because teachers like Jaime Escalante believed in me. His students had a different sense of what was possible for them because they had a teacher who believed in them. This (stamp) is a wonderful remembrance of him."