Lester Alemán ’07 became an advocate and a leader while a Posse Scholar at Grinnell College. He also worked as a program director for nearly four years at the Posse Foundation in Los Angeles. So it’s only fitting he had a chance showcase those skills while discussing the often controversial topic of diversity at the first-ever TEDxGrinnell event.
We talked with Lester about his TEDxGrinnell experience and time as a Grinnell student.
What was it like giving a TEDxGrinnell talk?
Delivering a TED Talk is, by far, one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my career. I’m honored that Grinnell College thought of me as someone who is a subject-matter expert in the field of diversity initiatives. My speech delivered a dose of obvious. But what’s more striking to me is that no matter how obvious diversity is in this country, we — as a nation— still resist it. I wrote my talk not only for the sociology majors of the country, but for people who need a reminder of what truly shapes this nation, and how we continuously perpetuate our lack of acceptance. “It’s not okay” somehow became my tag line. So when I think of how many people kept repeating that after my talk, I think I drove a message home. Now the work rests in the hands of those who listened.
Thinking back as a student, what is the most striking way you were affected by the culture shift from your home in Los Angeles to Grinnell?
Attending Grinnell College allowed me to understand the fabric of our social landscape. It also taught me to be very vocal and persuasive in the pursuit of social change. Going from an urban environment to a rural setting taught me to be adaptable. Those four years really shaped my vision for how I live my professional life.
What’s the most important piece of advice you would share with prospective Grinnellians?
The biggest piece of advice I can offer any prospective student is that Grinnell College is not the college for just anyone. Grinnell not only offers the unique opportunity to learn about the unique world we are all a part of, it offers the opportunity for you to truly become an agent of change. If change isn’t what you were made to do — then this isn’t the school for you. If change is what you live for, then welcome.
What’s the most important way Grinnell College assisted you in becoming the leader you are today?
There were caring adults who wanted nothing more than to see me thrive — and knew exactly how to help facilitate that growth. That was new for me. They taught me the most important thing a leader needs in this world: true and active compassion.
- Taking a course with Kesho Scott, associate professor of sociology and American studies, is a must for anyone that appreciates witty, insightful banter — the kind that gives you an eye-opening dose of what we are doing to each other in this world.
- Karla Erickson, associate professor of sociology, taught me that only I could dictate my path and pushed me to make tough decisions as my major adviser.
- Kara Lycke was a soundboard for the frustration I felt the more I learned about the injustices in our education system.
- Judy Hunter had the patience to really teach me how to put my feelings and thoughts into words at the Writing Lab.
- Katherine McClelland helped me overcome my fear of math so I could pass my statistics class.
- The late Howard Burkle indulged all my life questions — and my appetite, I should add — as my Posse Mentor.
- Charlie Duke gave my Posse a home away from home when Howard could no longer do that.
Alemán currently works at NBCUniversal in the Page Program, Talent Development Group.