MC Speakers Bureau First Generation to College Alfredo Chaparro
“Oh thank heaven ...” for hard work and determination
By Rebecca Bell
Alfredo Chaparro, the youngest son of Mexican immigrants, grew up in an exclusive neighborhood in north Dallas—in the servants’ quarters behind the home of one of Texas’ most influential entrepreneurial and philanthropic families. Mr. and Mrs. John Philip Thompson owned the Dallas-based Southland Corporation, which operated and franchised several nationwide subsidiaries, including 7-11 convenience stores. The Thompsons hired Alfredo’s parents, Carmen and Odilon Chaparro, to be their maid and groundskeeper in the early 1950s. The Chaparros continued to work for the Thompsons for approximately the next 45 years and raised their family in the small home located behind the Thompson house.
“The Thompsons were very generous and provided for my brother, sister and me to attend private school,” states Chaparro. However, he says that at times he did not fit in. “No one else’s parents were maids and groundskeepers” he explains. “Many of my fellow students had people like us working for them.”
During high school, this feeling of not belonging heightened. Chaparro says, “I felt strange and intimidated hanging around kids with tremendous resources. One reason I didn’t fit in well is because my parents never taught me that I was the same as everyone else.” However, he does not blame his parents for this. He understands they were humble people that fit very well into a servant culture. Nevertheless, the outcome was that Chaparro did, indeed, feel that he was different. He dealt with this by segregating himself from others.
Chaparro didn’t play sports and wasn’t involved in any after-school activities. He recalls being an average student during his early school years. Elementary school was a bit overwhelming because his family spoke Spanish in the home, and it wasn’t until Chaparro entered kindergarten that he learned English. Also, both of his parents only had obtained a second-grade education in rural Mexico and couldn’t help their children with homework. Chaparro also remembers that his parents never looked at his report cards. “My parents weren’t able to identify with education. They just didn’t understand about those things,” he says.
Something changed within young Chaparro when he was a junior in high school. “Since I didn’t participate in any social or school activities, I decided that I would concentrate on studying,” he explains. “I studied every chance I got—day and night. I read everything multiple times, underlined everything. During my senior year in high school, I took an honors biology course and was the only student who made an ‘A’ on various exams.” That class allowed him to realize he was like other students. In fact, he realized he could compete with the smartest students if he studied a lot.
Chaparro graduated from Jesuit Preparatory School in 1986 and took advantage of another of John Thompson’s generous provisions for the Chaparro family—a trust fund established for college. In August 1986 Alfredo and his older brother drove to Lubbock, where Alfredo had been accepted into Texas Tech University as a business major.
“Growing up, my parents were very strict, which is probably another reason I didn’t have much of a social life as a teenager,” states Chaparro. “At Tech, things definitely improved; college was absolutely fabulous!”
Chaparro enjoyed his college years, learning to balance his obsessive study habits with the usual college social activities. In 1990 he graduated from Texas Tech with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree in accounting. He later obtained a Master’s of Accountancy degree, also from Texas Tech. After college, Chaparro moved back to Dallas and worked as an internal auditor for Bank of America. In 1995, he married his wife Stacy.
Today, Stacy and Alfredo are enjoying life in Midland with their two children—Jacob, age 12, and Joey Grace, age 10. Stacy works for the Midland Independent School District teaching elementary and junior high school students who suffer with dyslexia.
Chaparro has become Midland College’s (MC’s) spokesperson for higher education access for First-Generation-To-College (FGTC) students. In the fall of 2009, MC President Dr. Steve Thomas asked Chaparro to chair a special outreach committee to investigate barriers to college access. Chaparro assumed this assignment with his usual fervor, passion and desire to “deliver the goods.” As a result of his leadership, MC has initiated several programs for FGTC students. In addition, Chaparro’s responsibilities as MC Director of community services include overseeing the college’s Title V Hispanic Serving Institutions grant, the Midland College Business & Economic Development Center and the Cogdell Learning Center. Just like when he was a teenager studying at Jesuit Prep School in Dallas and determined to make something of his life, Chaparro, now 44, still continues to operate at 110 percent effort.
He says, “Every time I’m in a room with others, I know there are people in there who are smarter than I am. If things came easily to me, I wouldn’t have to work so hard, but it has become a way of life that has served me well.”
One of Chaparro’s favorite movies is Gattaca, a 1997 science fiction thriller. The movie is about a genetically challenged man named Vincent whose dream is to fly into space. Because of his weak heart and the importance of genetics within society, Vincent is only allowed to apply for menial jobs. To move ahead, Vincent assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow, a perfect genetic specimen. By the end of the movie, Vincent achieves his goal of going into space by working hard to make his dream a reality.
For Alfredo Chaparro there are no inferior genes and false identities to assume. However, there is hard work, a desire to succeed and the willingness to serve as a champion for those with similar backgrounds.