KEARNEY – It’s hard to believe now, but Jose Arredondo was once a “very, very shy person.”
“You know that kid who sits in the back of the room all quiet? That used to me,” he said.
Although he didn’t talk much, Arredondo loved to write – a passion the English teachers at Lexington Public Schools encouraged him to pursue.
“They told me you definitely have a voice,” Arredondo said.
And they wanted him to share it with others.
“I had some great teachers and a counselor who helped shape who I am today,” he said. “They’re the whole reason why I went to college and they’re the whole reason why I got into education, because I knew right off the bat that I wanted to help people.”
Arredondo graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney on Friday with a bachelor’s degree in language arts education and minors in professional communication and media production.
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It was a “surreal” moment that capped a long journey for the 26-year-old.
“Being able to walk across that stage with my family watching me, that means the absolute world to me, knowing that all my time here and all my hard work finally paid off,” he said. “It may have taken me a little longer to finish, but that’s OK because everything happens for a reason. Every moment and every opportunity that I had here happened for a reason. I feel like all those steps helped guide me and helped mold me into who I am, because now I have more confidence than ever.”
After graduating from Lexington High School, Arredondo decided to stay in his hometown. He took classes through Central Community College and started working at the local Tyson plant once he turned 18. His mother had a serious health issue at the time, so attending college full time wasn’t an option.
When he earned an associate degree in May 2018, Arredondo wasn’t sure whether he wanted to continue his education. Then he thought about the teachers and counselor who always told him to aim higher.
“That’s what motivated me to come to UNK and get a bachelor’s degree,” he said.
In fall 2018, Arredondo transferred to UNK, a school that was both familiar and close to home.
“I’d been on tours before, and I just loved the environment here,” he said. “Everyone was so welcoming, so that made the transition so much easier.”
Arredondo enrolled in some creative writing courses that strengthened his love for the English language and got involved on campus through a number of organizations. He joined the Sigma Lambda Beta multicultural fraternity, participated in activities through the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion and received academic and personal support through TRIO Student Support Services.
“TRIO always gave me somebody to talk to, whether it was my adviser or another student who was also part of the program,” he said. “They helped me out so much, especially when I was feeling down. They lifted me up and helped push me to do what I needed to do.”
Arredondo had the same impact on the people he met, according to TRIO senior adviser Ashley Olivas, who noted his dedication to helping and supporting others.
“Jose has overcome numerous obstacles in his educational journey, but he has not let that affect his optimism and positivity,” she said. “He genuinely wants to make a positive, lasting impact on his community and his students.”
As a member of Sigma Lambda Beta, he was part of the organizing team for the Beta Men Youth Empowerment Conference, an annual event that brings middle schoolers to UNK to learn about leadership, higher education and professional opportunities. He also served as a New Student Enrollment leader last summer, helping incoming Lopers register for classes and develop connections with campus, and participated in undergraduate research through the UNK library.
During the spring semester, Arredondo completed his student teaching at Overton Public Schools, the same place where he observed classes as a freshman.
“I was hoping one day I’d get back to Overton, and I did. I student taught there and had a blast. It was an amazing experience,” he said.
Working alongside cooperating teacher Ashley Wyatt, Arredondo taught high school English and speech classes. Among the many activities, he helped the seniors conduct research on a world problem they’d like to solve, led a Holocaust education project for juniors and turned a “very shy” group of speech students into confident public speakers.
Wyatt believes he has all the qualities necessary to be an excellent educator.
“He loves his students; he cares about his students; he wants every kid to succeed; and he enjoys learning,” she said. “Jose is also kind-hearted. He genuinely wants the best for each kid, even when they aren’t making the best choices. You can tell he has a passion for writing, and he shares that passion with his students.”
Most importantly, Wyatt added, he has the ability to build relationships.
“Jose got to know each individual student, their likes and dislikes, their concerns, their strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “When a student was struggling with an issue either in or out of class, they turned to him for help. He even volunteered to work out in the weight room after school with a group of boys who needed a sponsor, not because he had to, but because he knew they needed a role model and a caring adult.”
Arredondo will start his teaching career at Loup City Public Schools this fall. He’s excited for the opportunity to have his own classroom and grateful for all the educators who got him to this point.
“I really want to be that teacher who everybody looks back at and remembers, like, ‘Oh, I remember this teacher because they helped me or they taught me in a specific way or they were just a great person overall,’” he said. “Because that’s how I saw my cooperating teacher. The impact she makes on those students is just amazing, and they all love her. I just hope that when I’m on my own, I’m half as good as she is.”