May 25, 2013

Southeast’s Rodriquez models patience, hard work

By Christopher Smith

— Southeast Whitfield High School art teacher Melodie Vaden said her first impression of senior Roy Rodriquez was his “patience ... that made him different than most students.” Especially when it came to Rodriquez’s drawings of family members and sunsets that won first place awards at contests at the Creative Arts Guild.

At the time, she said she didn’t know where Rodriquez learned an “adult” work ethic. Then she heard Rodriquez was working from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. everyday as a full-time operator at a carpet mill, taking care of an aging grandfather and using little gaps in the day to study.

“More than most deal with,” Vaden said.

But Rodriquez’s work ethic will pay off tonight at the trade center when he walks with the Southeast graduating class of 2013.

How does he describe the feeling of knowing he’s done with high school?

“Exciting,” Rodriquez said. “Very exciting. It’s been hard to support myself. The teachers here at Southeast have really helped me a lot through this. They knew I was working a lot and they helped me with my schedule and outside class to make sure I was making the grades I needed to graduate.”

Vaden said once the word got out that Rodriquez was overworked, many in the school united around him and offered him extra attention in the classroom.

“But he never made a big deal about it,” Vaden added. “He tried to keep his work to himself. He wasn’t like, ‘Hey, I’m working really hard. Cut me a break.’ He’s a very kind person. And we just wanted to support him.”

After moving from central Mexico six years ago, Rodriquez said he never felt support from others until starting classes at Southeast as a junior.

“My father worked in Atlanta and I immigrated there,” he said. “For awhile it was just me and my mom in Mexico till we could come to America. It was hard when we moved to Marietta. It was scary. I wanted to go back home. I didn’t want to go to school because I didn’t know English. I was just afraid. I didn’t speak any English.”

After spending a year in a Cobb County School District English for Speakers of Other Languages program, Rodriquez said he picked up the basics of the language. But he said it was little solace when he felt homesick, especially since his father’s construction life kept his family transient — moving him from school system to school system.

“But here in Southeast, everyone has helped me and just been there for me,” he said. “The teachers here helped me a lot. The students, friends. I’m very thankful for them all.”

That’s why Rodriquez said he decided to stay in Whitfield County when his father’s work moved most of his family to Dallas, Texas. After years of feeling homesick for Mexico, Rodriquez said he found somewhere where he “wanted to stay.”

“I miss them,” he said of his family. “But I didn’t want to leave this high school. And I have my uncle, who I live with here in Dalton. My family — they said they wouldn’t be able to help me with money. They supported my decision though. So I started working full-time at nights. That’s about when my grandfather (who also stayed in Dalton) started feeling sick. And so I helped take care of him after school and before work.”

That doesn’t leave a lot of time to sleep, but Rodriquez says naps and weekends help him cope with his fatigue.

“Everything in his life is not about him,” Vaden said. “Most teenagers are — you know — self-focused. It’s like he missed that whole part of his life. He’s very patient. It’s something not a lot of people have. He doesn’t complain ... even though he’s sort of been in the trenches.”

Rodriquez said he feels like his life will get easier for him after graduation. Inspired by his father’s construction job, Rodriquez plans to become an architectural engineer. He knows that will mean college. He knows that means more work.

“But hard work pays off,” he said. “I just have to keep going.”