BY KEVIN STEELE — There was a mix of tears, laughter, and inspiration as students and faculty gathered together on Tuesday for the opening celebration of Latin Heritage Month.
In its attempt to bring awareness about the Latino Culture to the campus community, Campus Activities invited comedian and empowerment speaker Ernie G (short for Ernesto Tomas Gritzewsky).
“He represents the story of many of our student here at William Paterson University,” said Marivel Rodrigues, the associate director of the Student Development and Campus Activities office. “He also has overcome a lot of obstacles to get to where he is today.”
Ernie G spoke about some of those obstacles, telling stories about his experiences growing up. He talked about his time in high school where he met a guidance counsellor who saw him as a leader, and encouraged him to go to college.
“Because of the love of Ms. Donna Huckaby, I got into Loyola Marymount University and became the first person in my family ever to go to college,” said Gritzewsky.
When Ernie G asked the students in attendance how many of them will be the first in their families to graduate college, multiple students raised their hands. Genairis Dones, a senior, and the president of the Campus Activities programming board, was one of those students.
“I’m a first-generation college student myself, so when he was talking, I was reflecting back to how it is at my home,” said Dones.
Dones also related to Ernie G when he talked about the presence of gangs and violence in his neighborhood growing up.
“I do live in a neighborhood where it can get a little [unsafe] sometimes,” she said. “I’ve seen the gang members; I’ve seen a little bit of violence going back and forth sometimes. It’s not as intense as other areas, but I’ve seen it.”
Ernie G’s comedic ability allowed students to laugh at his experiences growing up, although they were some of the hardest times in his life. After he finished speaking at the event, Ernie G shared his thoughts on how he is able to make an impact on the people who listen to him speak.
“There’s a difference between stand-up comedy and what I do, which is empowerment comedy,” he said. “I know how to speak to their heart and soul by making them laugh, and once they were cracking up, I was able to drop the words of wisdom and empowerment.”
These are the words that moved some students in the room to cry; words that caused young men to come up to Ernie G at the end with tears in their eyes to give him a hug. These words told the story of him being kicked out of college, his aunt passing away, and his triumph over all the obstacles in his life, and finally walking across the stage as a college graduate.
After hearing Ernie G speak, Amanda Jimenez, a second-year graduate student who works for Campus Activities, learned that it is up to her to make the best out of her life.
“The things that you want can come into existence as a result of the things that you do, and as a result of the decisions that you make,” she said. “Even though it may seem like you have a lot of barriers in front of you, you can still make things happen.”