Stephanie Valencia with University President William P. Leahy, SJ, after receiving the Romero Scholarship. (Photo by Remy Morrison, courtesy of The Heights)
The scholarship is given each year to a Boston College junior who exemplifies the values and ideals of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Archbishop Romero, known for his dedication to the poor and disenfranchised, was shot and killed by an assassin while celebrating Mass in 1980.
Valencia, from Las Cruces, NM, is studying this semester in Mexico City, but was able to attend the ceremony.
Before coming to Boston College, Valencia admits she had never heard of Archbishop Romero and his work in El Salvador.
"Since I began my Jesuit education I was exposed to the work of Archbishop Romero and from the beginning I was intrigued," she said.
"The more I learned the more compelled I felt to understand, because of the strong calling I felt to his example and the struggle of El Salvador."
As a sophomore, she participated in an immersion retreat to El Salvador organized through Campus Ministry.
"I was amazed at the amount of faith and hope that the people possessed, in spite of the violence and poverty that plagues their country," she said.
Valencia recalls witnessing the impact that Archbishop Romero continues to have on the lives of the people of El Salvador, even some 20 years after his death.
"I discovered the humble manner in which Romero touched so many lives, the lives of people who suffer, and who have every reason to give up faith and hope, but yet he restored it to them," she said.
Valencia said the experience inspired her to return.
"My soul had been touched, and I knew that I had only scratched the surface of something that was so deep," she said.
Valencia spent the fall semester of her junior year studying at the Casa de la Solidaridad (House of Solidarity) program in El Salvador. She worked in a community cooperative in a rural part of El Salvador called Jayaque. The cooperative included a bakery to provide low cost bread for the community, a sewing academy to prepare women to work in the nearby mills, a program that distributed donated medicines to the community, and a low cost dental facility.
"I worked a little bit in each component, but mostly learned as much as I could about the community and their daily struggles," she said.
"For me, being in El Salvador for those four months was probably the most profound experience of my life so far," she said. "Witnessing the poverty, suffering and injustice so up close made it personal, and gave it a human face."
Valencia said the experience has prompted her decision to do similar work in developing countries after graduation next year.
While at BC, Valencia has been involved in the Shaw Leadership Program, where she organized an eyeglass-collection drive for those in need in El Salvador. She has also been a part of the Emerging Leaders Program and served on the UGBC Senate and the Organization of Latin American Affairs.
In her senior year, Valencia plans to help re-establish a scholarship that once sponsored a Salvadoran student at the University of Central America, as well as participate in organizations such as the School of the Americas Watch, Global Justice Project and 4 Boston. She also hopes to lead a trip to Latin America.
"Romero continues to challenge me and has greatly impacted the way that I live my life and also that which I believe my vocation to be," said Valencia. "Romero has taught me to live simply so that others can simply live, to see the injustice in the world, and to fight against it, to be the change I wish to see in the world."
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