When he came to the United States from the South American country of Ecuador in 1991, Jeffrey Vizueta didn’t speak English. He didn’t have a high school diploma. On Saturday, May 10, 2014, Olivet conferred upon him the Doctor of Education in Ethical Leadership
(Ed.D.) degree, and he received the Ralph E. Perry Student Award of Excellence.
What happened in between was even better than his childhood dream. Crossing many borders
In the early 1970s, Jeffrey’s mother emigrated from Ecuador to the U.S. to help provide for her family. He and his younger brother remained in their country with his grandmother. “She provided my education and helped me a lot,” he recalls. Although they attended church together, he really didn’t understand the meaning of faith and the difference God could make in his life.
Desperate to provide more for his family, Jeffrey dropped out of school and went to work. Soon, he was following a path that took him further from God. Rebellion, crime and violence became part of his life.
Daytime and nighttime. At work and on the streets. Serving in the Ecuadorian military. Jeffrey never gave up on his dream of coming to the U.S. Then in 1991, when he was 22 years old, his mother invited him to join her in Chicago.
Right away, he began working at a factory on the south side of the city. “I knew I wanted to go to college and succeed in the U.S.,” he says.
His first step was to go through GED® (General Educational Development). He passed the GED Test in December 1991 and earned the equivalent of a high school diploma.
Learning English was the next important step, but that didn’t come as easily for him. He took several English as a second language (ESL) classes. But he often felt frustrated when people didn’t understand him because of his accent.
“I was going through greater challenges than I’d ever gone through before,” he says. “I began going to church more often, but I still felt detached from God.”Lessons in servanthood
After earning his associate’s degree, Jeffrey was hired by Ameritech (now AT&T). In 1999, he received his bachelor’s degree and was promoted into management.
As his career was moving forward, his personal life was, too. On a visit to Ecuador in 1999, he met Haydee, who later became his wife and joined him in the U.S. “She is my pillar,” Jeffrey says.
In 2011, he received his Master of Business Administration degree. At the invitation of his friend, Jim Kanichirayil ’14 Ed.D., he applied to Olivet’s Doctorate of Ethical Leadership program right away.
While studying at Olivet, he received an unexpected benefit. “My faith has been renovated,” he says. “I began to understand that we are here to serve and help others, not ourselves.”
“I’m not the same person spiritually now,” he explains. “Now, it’s all about servant leadership for me. I want to teach my children about this.”Redefining success
Today, Jeffrey is the ecommerce business manager with AT&T in Chicago. He manages companies that provide call center resources to his company. He has great benefits and financial stability. He speaks English well and communicates easily with all types of people from a variety of places. Some would define that as success.
But Jeffrey will be the first to say that his greatest success is being able to help his relatives. Most of their extended family lives in Ecuador, and they visit there for several weeks each year. And soon, he and Haydee will welcome an adopted son and daughter from Ecuador into their family here.
His advice to others who are thinking about coming to the U.S. and pursuing their dreams: “You have to be prepared to go over many hurdles. If you’re willing to work hard, you will find rewards here. Don’t forget where you came from. And don’t forget to help others.”