Rep. Velázquez was warmly greeted by the students and faculty of St. Thomas and delivered a stirring speech focusing on patriotism and education.
This story started a while back with several people noting that there was no American flag flying in front of St. Thomas the Apostle. There was an empty flag pole, noted incoming Principal Joseph Carpenter. There was a Papal flag, but no American flag, noted Father Frank Tumino.
They both vowed to make getting an American flag up and flying a top priority.
St. Thomas the Apostle’s Mary Farley is well known for her love of the flag. She is a member of the Women’s Auxiliary of Woodhaven’s American Legion Post 118, and she leads the students of St. Thomas through a Flag Day ceremony every June.
She spoke with Mr. Carpenter and Fr. Tumino and took up the task to get a special American flag to fly in front of the school.
Late last year, at the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association dinner dance, Mary Farley caught the ear of Rep. Velázquez and worked with her over the next few months to bring this special flag to Woodhaven. During the presentation of the flag, Rep. Velázquez paid tribute to Mary.
“Your tenacity, your commitment, and the love that you have for our children who represent our future, but most importantly love for our country,” she said to Mary Farley directly in front of a basement auditorium packed with more than 150 students from different grades. “People like you make our community better.”
A former teacher herself, the congresswoman shared her own story with the young students, many of whom reminded her of her own self at that age.
“I am a living example of the American dream,” she said. “I was born in Puerto Rico and we were nine brothers and sisters, and my father worked in the sugarcane fields.
“And every time he came home, he made sure to ask each one of us ‘Did you do your homework?’” she added. “And I remember my father telling us all the time that education is the key that would open the door.
“Can you imagine?” she asked “A little girl growing up in Puerto Rico, very poor, and today being the first Puerto Rican female in the United States Congress?
“One thing I want you to take away is that education is the key that will open the door to immense opportunity,” she said. “I want for each one of you to dream big.”
Rep. Velázquez then spoke about something that happened much more recently.
“I don’t know if you were watching the president’s State of the Union, but I was there,” she said. “This little girl who grew up in Puerto Rico was not only sitting with the president, but at the end, he hugged me and he kissed me.”
Then she brought the students to their feet by telling them “I want for you to know that you, too, can become a member of Congress. That you, too, can become a doctor. That you, too, can be the very best.”
It was an emotional speech that was well received by the students and faculty. Seventh-grader Alexander Colon expressed the feelings he took away from Rep. Velázquez’ speech, saying “I felt proud listening to her speech. She spoke about growing up poor, and now she is the first Puerto Rican Congresswoman."
Seventh-graders Penda Martin and Shohan Islam were also touched by what Nydia said to them.
“Her words were very inspirational, and while I don't necessarily want to run for Congress, it makes you ponder the possibilities,” Penda said.
Shohan’s take on the speech was that “even though someone comes from a disadvantaged background, they can become important in society if they dream big,” he said.
Rep. Velázquez stayed behind afterwards, chatting with students and taking pictures. It was a real treat for the students. After all, how many times do you get the chance to take selfies with a standing member of Congress?