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BHS junior selected as the student speaker for AVID conference 

BHS junior selected as the student speaker for AVID conference 

Burnsville High School (BHS) junior Cristian Gamboa has been selected to speak at this year’s AVID Summer Institute, which is AVID’s premier learning event for professionals. More than 40,000 educators are expected to attend Summer Institutes in 10 different locations held throughout the summer. 

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a college prep program that helps students gain the organizational and study skills they need to be successful. It’s offered in all District 191 middle and high schools.

After some gentle nudges from AVID teacher Marie Hansen, Cristian submitted an essay for AVID’s student speaker contest. His essay, called “Gratitude,” was selected from hundreds of students representing AVID schools across the Midwest. Being selected as student speaker is one of the highest honors within the AVID program, and it’s the first time a District 191 student has been selected. 

Cristian will speak at the general session alongside three others, including the CEO of AVID, a keynote speaker and a teacher. However, the student speaker is the most-anticipated speaker of the session. 

When asked about his essay being selected, Cristian humbly said: “It’s cool, especially someone like me being picked, with the background that I have. I was really bad at writing, and I’m just glad that my writing, in a language that is not mine, was selected for this honor. And it feels great, knowing how far I’ve come.”

Education has always been important to Cristian. As a young boy growing up in Venezuela – one of the poorest countries in South America – Cristian knew that getting an education would lead to opportunity. His father wanted better opportunities for his family, too. So in 2018, Cristian’s family immigrated to the United States, eventually settling in Burnsville.  

Cristian started his journey in District 191 at Nicollet Middle School (NMS). His memory of those first couple years is unfortunately not pleasant, as there were so many barriers in front of him. He knew very little English, so classroom work was very difficult and frustrating, and he had to use Google translate most of the time to communicate with others. Cristian was also really insecure about his accent, because he felt different from others. He didn’t have any friends and dreaded going to school.

However, these experiences motivated him to learn English as quickly as possible. He also enrolled in AVID classes, where he found a place where he belonged.    

“I felt out of place everywhere I would go, and I also missed my country,” said Cristian. “So when I enrolled in AVID, I was surrounded by people who had things in common with me, which made me feel comfortable there. They all had the same goals as me – to get an education, go to college and prepare themselves for the future. They all had dreams, they all had ambitions. They were my support system when I needed it the most.” 

Cristian credits AVID with helping him with so many different skills – communication, time management, organization, note taking – and with supporting his future aspirations. He is also very grateful for the caring One91 teachers who helped him along the way, including NMS teachers Angela Smolke and Amy Olson and BHS AVID teachers Marie Hansen and Dave McDevitt. Above all, he’s thankful that his parents stressed the importance of doing well in school and pushed him to excel academically. 

Cristian is honored that he was selected as the student speaker for this year’s conference. 

“I am really excited about it,” said Cristian. “I want to share my journey with other people. Now, I like to tell people where I come from because I know that so many people are going through what I went through. I like to share my experiences with them so that they know they’re not alone and that they can see what you can get when you actually put the work in.”

At Burnsville High School, Cristian has taken full advantage of every opportunity in front of him, including joining the Blaze volleyball team and playing club volleyball. This year, he enrolled into the Associate of Arts Pathway (A.A.), where he will earn his A.A. degree by the time he graduates high school – saving him time and money at the college level. Cristian doesn’t know yet what he wants to study, but he’s interested in business and finance. He believes that both AVID and A.A. classes have prepared him for what’s next in his journey. 

“From the vibrant streets of Venezuela to the hallways of a high school in Minnesota, each step has been a testament to my growth,” said Cristian. “My journey was not just a pursuit of academic excellence but a profound transformation that took unexpected turns.”

The AVID Summer Institute will be held July 31-Aug. 2 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Cristian is slated to speak at the general session on Aug. 1.