When Marvin Rodriguez first entered Greenport Elementary School, having left his native Guatemala at just 9 years old, he knew only a few English words, which he’d picked up from listening to children’s songs.
But by the time he graduated from Greenport High School last year, Mr. Rodriguez was not only fluent in English, he’d become senior class president and captain of the school soccer team. Recently, his success hit another high point when he earned a 4.0 GPA after completing his first semester of college at SUNY/Oneonta, where he’s studying computer science.
“The teachers here at Greenport definitely went out of their way to help me,” Mr. Rodriguez told The Suffolk Times last week during an interview at his alma mater. “I would come before school and stay after class. They were always willing to help if I didn’t understand something.”
Christine Aviles-Nott, who teaches the English as a second language course, was his first English instructor. As soon as she met Mr. Rodriguez, she said, it was clear he’s a go-getter.
“We called him ‘Marvelous Marvin’ because he was such a good citizen and student and never gave up,” Ms. Aviles-Nott said.
Although growing up in Greenport with a language barrier was frustrating, Mr. Rodriguez said never gave up because his teachers were always willing to give the time he needed.
“Their door was always open,” he said. “I remember all of my classes and every single teacher that gave me extra help.”
Although the lessons might not have been all that popular with other students, Mr. Rodriguez particularly enjoyed vocabulary lessons from Mike Connolly, his eighth-grade English teacher.
“He would make learning fun,” he said. “I’ll never forget how he taught us how to remember the word ‘abut’ by describing two people standing near each other.”
He attributes the A he earned in his college English composition class to his teachers.
“Here, we read English literature, analyzed prose and interpreted poems,” he said. “When my professor started teaching us about Coleridge and Keats, I already knew what she was talking about … She said I must have gone to a respectable school.”
Mr. Rodriguez said he attributes his tenacity to his parents, who made many sacrifices to secure a better life for their family.
While the family remained in Guatemala, Mr. Rodriguez’ father, Marbin, worked in a California restaurant 10 months out of the year. In 2001, the family moved to the U.S. and lived in California for a few months before settling in Greenport. His mother, Maria, is a housekeeper and his father has worked at Mudd Vineyard in Southold for the past decade.
Knowing what his parents have gone through, Mr. Rodriguez said he didn’t complain about not having his own room while growing up. Until the family moved out of their apartment and into a house when he was in high school, Mr. Rodriguez slept on the living room couch.
He’s happy his 14-year-old sister, Rosario, hasn’t had to face as many challenges.
“It was easier for my sister to learn English because she was taught at a younger age,” he said. “I was the one that would make all of the phone calls for my parents. Now that I’m in college, my sister is taking over my responsibilities and helping them out.”
Greenport High School principal Leonard Skuggevik described Mr. Rodriguez’ success as “an inspiration to other students.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Marvin’s story will help students stay on the right track,” Mr. Skuggevik said. “These are the things our students need to see, especially when the media is flooded with negativity. It’s really important to emphasize the good stories.”
In addition to excelling in history and math, Mr. Rodriguez developed a passion for computer science when he was 15.
“My computer wasn’t working and my cousin came over to fix it,” he said. “I was watching what he was doing and kept asking questions. He taught me the basics of computer repair.”
Mr. Rodriguez said he’s taking the same approach he used to learn English to take on computer science. But he knows there’s more to life than hours spent at a keyboard. While growing up, ice skating and flying kites in Mitchell Park were among his favorite things to do. He’s also keen on soccer and credits Chris Golden, Greenport high soccer coach, with passing on much more than sports knowledge. The coach was instrumental in helping him make the often difficult transition from junior to senior high.
“He would check up on me and went out of his way to make sure I was doing OK,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “He taught me about integrity. He’s definitely someone I’ll always remember.”
After he graduates from college, Mr. Rodriguez plans to open his own computer repair business, perhaps eventually working with either Intel or Apple. He’s applying to different companies and hopes to secure an internship this summer.
His advice to other students facing similar struggles is simple: “Don’t stop. Keep trying.
“Even if you fail, you always learn something,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s not always about triumph. It’s also about the journey I went through because that is what has made me the person I am today.”