The Heart Behind E=mc2

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday.

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On a high school campus where only 60 percent of seniors graduate and less than 20 percent attend college, e=mc2 changed the life of one student, who in turn inspired inspired a legion of others.

Meet Jeremiah Raygoza, an Edison High graduate with a love for learning and giving but not a passion for physics. His love for e=mc2 has nothing to do with energy, mass and the light of speed squared but everything to do with success beyond high school.

At Edison, Raygoza joined “E=mc2,” a club of roughly 150 members that shows students how pursuing a math or science degree can change their future. As a leader in E=mc2, Raygoza encouraged his peers to finish high school and visit local colleges. He also mentored an 8th grader at Mark Twain Middle School.

With the help of a $2,500 gift from Silver & Black Give Back, the charitable arm of Spurs Sports & Entertainment, E=mc2 impacted a range of students from Twain to Edison during the 2012-13 school year. Along the way, Raygoza received a Dell scholarship to attend the University of Texas at Austin, where he just completed his first semester as a biology major.

The scholarship thrilled Raygoza. What excited him more was a possible grand prize awaiting E=mc2: $20,000 from Silver & Black Give Back to complete its service learning project.

In the fall of 2012, the student-led group at Edison was among 20 across the city Silver & Black Give Back had selected as Team Up Challenge Semifinalists. The top five would each receive five-figure cash prizes.

As Edison waited on the Team Up Challenge final results, Raygoza made a promise: He would donate his $20,000 scholarship to E=mc2 if the group did not win the $20,000 prize from Team Up Challenge. Why?

“I feel everybody deserves an opportunity, a chance to succeed,” Raygoza says. “When I was in E=mc2, we were able to travel and visit certain universities. I went to UT-Austin, loved it and decided that was my school. Being in this group could change the direction of many students’ lives.”

In the end, the Edison group did not need Raygoza’s scholarship. E=mc2 won the Team Up Challenge on its own in April. “I couldn’t believe it,” Raygoza says. “Everybody was jumping around. There was confetti. We were all happy.”

As it turns out, Raygoza could not have shared his Dell scholarship with E=mc2. The financial award goes directly to UT-Austin. But the offer to give his scholarship to the student group made an impression.

On Jan. 10, Raygoza will share his story and explain the impact of E=mc2 at the annual Tux ‘N Tennies Gala, the premier fundraiser for Silver & Black Give Back’s youth programs. The event, held at the AT&T Center, will feature franchise players, coaches and executives in tuxedos, gowns and tennis shoes enjoying dinner, silent and live auctions and special entertainment.

Raygoza’s speech promises to inspire.

“Jeremiah has a very generous spirit and that’s what Silver & Black Give Back is all about,” says Laura Dixon, executive director of Silver & Black Give Back. “It’s about empowering people to share. Jeremiah is a real shining example of that. He hadn’t received anything personal other than a scholarship award. But he was willing to give that up, to sacrifice it for his team and school. It was in his heart. That’s what we want to highlight -- the inspiration.”

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Raygoza and 59 E=mc2 peers posed that question to 8th graders from Twain. As each middle- schooler mentioned a job -- doctor, lawyer, teacher -- Edison students explained practical steps to reach career goals. The student Raygoza mentored wanted to design computer games.

“I told him, ‘You should look into computer engineering and be the one who creates those games,’” Raygoza says. “Kids knew what they wanted to do. They just didn’t know the process to get there. Mentoring was fun. It made me happy. It made me wish I had had someone to help me when I was in middle school. I didn’t realize these things were important until my senior year and started looking into colleges.”

There was no college role model at home for Raygoza. No one in his immediate family has a bachelor’s degree. “My sister went to community college but dropped out,” he says. “I’m the first to attend a four-year university.”

Not long ago, an Edison teacher invited Raygoza back to speak to her class. First, he had to finish final exams. “I’m not going to lie,” he says. “I struggled a little bit this semester, but I’m getting the hang of it. I studied all week, day and night, barely had any sleep, and I ended up getting an ‘A’ on my chemistry final and a ‘B’ on my calculus final.”

When he returned to Edison, Raygoza listened to students and answered their questions -- not in one class but four. He was much in demand and did not disappoint with a story of perseverance and triumph. When the day ended, his work continued. There was a speech to write and a new audience to inspire. The Tux ‘N Tennies Gala can hardly wait.