Quiet Pride Points East’s Lilian Alvizures Towards West Point
You report for work on the Monday before Christmas geared for a short week leading into the winter break. Just a couple of days that are likely to be a formality, you figure, before the school year’s intermission. You’re sort of preoccupied.
Let’s see, what’s on the calendar? Here’s an appointment at East High to meet with a student who’s received a congressional nomination to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Good for her. Congratulations. You’ve told similar stories before. You think you know pretty much how this goes.
And then you meet Lilian Alvizures.
Well, first you meet her counselor, Lauren Brandt-Erickson. She’s in her first year on the job. Right out of the chute she encourages one of her seniors to go for her dream of an appointment to a military academy and hits the jackpot.
Then you meet Lilian’s parents, Jose and Cecil. They’re waiting for their daughter in the office at East right along with you. They’re quiet and proud and gracious.
THEN you meet Lilian. The senior is just arriving back at the East campus from morning classes at Central Campus where she’s enrolled in the Urban Leadership program. First impression? Like her parents, she is quiet and proud and gracious. She leads you to the west foyer of the school that is paneled with plaques in memory of East grads who made the ultimate sacrifice in military service. It makes a good setting for some photos.
Finally it’s time for Lilian to explain how and why she’s bound for West Point. And that’s when you realize that meeting this special girl means a special day for you.
Lillian’s brother Eric graduated from East last year. He went from the Junior ROTC program at Central Campus into the National Guard. A couple of years ago he chided his younger sister that she didn’t have what it takes to make it in JROTC. Call it sibling-to-sibling motivation. Lilian decided she would show him. She had no designs on a military future at that point. She just wanted to shut her brother up.
So she signed up for JROTC and joined the color guard. The following Memorial Day that unit was assigned to a ceremony in Van Meter at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery. During the event a speaker asked the vets who could to please stand and be saluted. Lilian noticed that many could not, and that for many who did, standing was a struggle.
She was so moved then that even now, when she recalls the moment and talks about it, her big, dark eyes well up and spill over.
“I was struck by the sacrifice they had all made,” she said Monday morning, “and I think that is when I began to realize the honor of military service.”
So she set her sights on West Point. And now, thanks to the official nomination that came recently from Congressman David Young, West Point has its sights set on Lilian, too.
Academy nominations are coveted. This year’s original batch of aspirants in Iowa was pared to 20 who were invited to face a grueling interview in front of a panel charged with winnowing the field to two who would be recommended to Congressman Young for nomination. The site for the interviews? Van Meter, Iowa.
“That Saturday morning I was so nervous I was thinking of just dropping out,” Lilian said. “But as we drove into Van Meter past all of the flags at the cemetery I made up my mind that I was going to do this.”
And so she did.
This is just a nutshell version. Lilian’s got lots of people to thank. And there were those anxious moments around Thanksgiving when she was supposed to be notified and no word came. Brandt-Erickson likes to talk about how Lilian kept trying to jam more classes into her schedule than there is room for (she wants to become a doctor and treat wounded soldiers). Already, as a high school senior, she is good at treating cynicism. All you have to do is listen to her talk about that Memorial Day in Van Meter. That’s the part that grabs you.
What does big brother Eric think about all of this?
“He is very proud and happy,” said Lilian, wiping a tear and smiling like sunshine after a shower.
Lilian’s story by itself is a goosebumper. But hers is also a chapter in the shared story of Jose and Cecil, itself reflected in the American Dream sought by so many immigrants over so many years. Her father came to the United States from Guatemala; her mother from El Salvador. He became a U.S. citizen earlier this year; she a couple of years ago. Now the Alvizures family is absolutely All-American. And so is the story they’re telling together.