marquita aguilar.

richmond, virginia.  |  wife. mother. grandmother. woman of faith. student advocate.

 I had the good fortune to sit next to this woman at the Grace Harris Leadership Conference a few weeks ago. Being new to the Richmond area, I thought attending a women’s leadership conference may be the best way to get acclimated — sometimes my instincts are spot on. The women at my table were vibrant and welcoming. I immediately felt right at home.

Marquita Aguilar introduced herself to our table of eight and spoke passionately about her role at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the Director of Great Place Initiative at the College of Humanities and Sciences. Marquita understands that education is the foundation of success. She also understands that not everyone gets the opportunity to obtain a college education due to financial circumstance. Thanks to this woman, there are some students at VCU who get a little help along the way. Marquita knows about struggle. She knows about hard work. And she knows about perseverance. It is no wonder that she extends a helping hand to those who wish to build a better future.

How did you choose your career path and was it a conscious decision?

When I first entered the workforce, I honestly did not have a career path in mind. My sole desire was to find work and provide for my family. My family’s livelihood was very important to me. Therefore, any aspirations or goals I envisioned were put on hold. I realized at an early age that sometimes I would have to sacrifice my time and energy for those I love. Over the years, I held several different jobs just to keep up with the high cost of living. During this season of my life, I developed important skills and knowledge to excel in the workplace.

You have been awarded several honors for your work at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) including: The Marquita C. Aguilar Scholarship Award and the Presidential Award for Community Multicultural Enrichment. What is your proudest accomplishment and why?

My proudest accomplishment would be the creation of the VCU Staff Senate Virginia’s Caring University Scholarship Campaign and Walk-A-thon. My passion to help students began while I was employed for the financial aid and student accounting departments at VCU. I encountered many students who were in good academic standing in the University drop out of college because they could not afford to continue their education. This really sadden and bothered me. In 2003, I began to pray about this and finally I received an idea.

Why not organize a Walk-A-thon to create undergraduate scholarships for continuing students in need of financial assistance.   The proposal was accepted and we held our first Walk-A-thon in 2005. When I come to work and I see students going to class, and I see future leaders. Those who can make a difference in our community and in our world. I care about student success. Scholarships remind me of a huge rock that crushes unwanted debt. Each year we hope to create additional scholarships and make education possible for many more students.

What has been your greatest obstacle in life and how do/did you navigate it?

When I was a child, my family could not afford to buy new clothes or shoes for me and my siblings. I received hand me down clothes from others and frequently visited a nearby factory to receive discarded pieces of fabric that I would collect and take to my grandmother so she could make me a dress from the material. I would wear a pair of shoes until the back of my heels would bleed because they were too tight. I did not want to complain because I knew we did not have the extra money. At an early age, I wanted to help my family. So at the age of eight I told my grandmother I wanted to work. I am sure you can imagine what her answer was. However, she always gave me great advice. Therefore, I began doing errands for elderly folks in the neighborhood. They would pay me a nickel or sometimes a dime for helping them. I also collected used soda bottles. I would clean the bottles and return them to the store for a nickel a bottle. Eventho, being poor had its setbacks, I learned lessons that I would not trade for anything. If you wait on someone else to change your circumstances, you will be waiting a long time. Take action have faith and see the results.

What is the most challenging thing you have been though and how did you garner the courage to move through it?

The most challenging thing in my life was losing my grandmother and mother. My grandmother was a great role model for me. She took my family in to live with her and at times became the sole supporter of my family for many years. She was a woman of great faith in God. She taught me about God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. She was a woman of very few words. However, her words gave me the inspiration to stand up for what I believe in and she also taught me that sometimes it is best to sit down, listen and respect what others are saying to gain more wisdom and understanding.

My mother was absolutely beautiful. She was very artistic. She enjoyed drawing and painting very much. She loved her children very much but struggled with depression. She was a divorcee and for her that was absolutely taboo. So for many years she struggled with the demons of rejection and heartache. In 1994, my mother began a new journey to focus on each moment instead of the past. She realized she had to let go of the past so she could be totally free to enjoy her future. Therefore, she decided to rededicate her life to God and found much joy and happiness before she passed away in 1995. Two of my most trusted confidants who I loved very much were gone. I missed their presence and I thought at times I could not make it. However, their words still remain in my heart: Love God, your family, do good unto others, keep your promises, forgive and don’t look back!

To what do you attribute to your continued success?

My God, loving husband and children. And lessons that I have learned from others.

What is your best advice on how to live a graceful life?

Love and pray every day for your family. Be grateful for the time you have with them. Smile and be kind to everyone, even when they are not kind to you. One day they may surprise you with a smile. Be thankful to God always. And believe the best is yet to come.

j. jane side notes:

The Virginia Commonwealth University Staff Senate’s 1tth annual Marquita Aguilar Scholarship Walk-A-Thon is scheduled for Thursday, April 16th. In 2012, during a Virginia’s Caring University Scholarship Awards Ceremony, Dr. Michael Rao, President of Virginia Commonwealth University highlighted Marquita’s work regarding student scholarships and honored her by renaming the event in her name.

This year’s event will be held on the VCU Monroe Park Campus. WRIC 8 News will be joining Marquita and the folks at VCU. Space is limited, so we encourage people to register ASAP. Pre-registration is required for the Walk and lunch. All participants will meet at 11:30 am in the VCU Student Commons Plaza, located at 907 Floyd Avenue. REGISTER HERE.

The scholarship monies received go directly onto the scholarship recipients student’s account for the Fall 2015 Semester.

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