It’s been almost a month since we finished our 2019 National Convention in Phoenix. Simply put, it was the most successful event in SHPE’s history. Attendance topped 9,000 for the first time. Hundreds of Hispanics walked away with cool internships and amazing jobs. There was an energy you had to be there to believe.
And while I’m still bursting with pride over what we’ve accomplished, that feeling is tempered by other, equally powerful emotions. Sadness that it’s all over. Apprehension that we won’t be able to top it or maintain our organization’s meteoric growth.
In short, I felt depressed. Deflated. I lost sleep torturing myself with doubts and second-guessing.
Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? Am I enough?
In truth, I’ve gotten so much positive feedback about that week—people marveling at the energy, the passion, the sense of Familia, the recognition that something truly powerful was happening—I almost feel guilty for having these doubts.
It’s been a tough month for me, with lots of weighty introspection. But I realized something the other day which put this whole whirlwind of emotions in perspective: The two people who have been there the most these past few weeks, the ones that’ve taken the time to cheer me up and helped me have fun—William Verastegui and Favian Guzman—are SHPE members themselves. They’re part of the SHPE Familia, right here in D.C.
Since taking over as SHPE’s CEO two years ago, I’ve had plenty of folks reach out to tell me how much I’ve done to reinvigorate the organization. And I’ve appreciated every word of support and encouragement. But there was something about what William and Favian said and did—just being there for me when I needed a friend, to validate the vulnerable place I was in—that struck me in a very deep and profound way.
The more I thought about this, the more I was overcome by an immense gratitude for William and Favian and everything SHPE has given me: the human connections, the sense of accomplishment, the courage to grow and transform (and transcend) in ways I never imagined.
When I accepted the role of CEO, I was nervous and excited—and a little unsure of myself, given the daunting challenge of having to learn the complex and complicated business of SHPE and to build it from the ground up in many aspects. I needed to become an expert in STEM professional societies and member associations, and to hone my advocacy skills in diversity and inclusion.
I’ve always been a strong and confident person, but the challenge of helming an organization like this forced me to be so hyper-focused, I often lost sight of what was really important: the SHPE members, the heroes in SHPE’s long and sweeping story—and my heroes as well. If a SHPE member I’d never met engaged me on my personal social media, I intentionally kept my distance, believing I needed to keep my personal life and my SHPE life completely separate.
This year’s Convention changed everything. I experienced a metanoia of sorts—a seismic shift in my perspective. It’s hard to describe. But for the first time, after two conventions, I finally felt like I owned this one. Like I finally earned the right to put my stamp on it. Phoenix was a huge success; and I couldn’t be prouder of and happier for SHPE.
When we started the planning process, I feared we wouldn’t be able to top what we accomplished in 2018 in Cleveland. We broke all sorts of records then and there. But thanks to the tireless efforts of my team and the many volunteers ensuring every detail was accounted for, I realized that there’s no challenge we can’t handle—together.
Because of this “shift,” I finally felt a sense of psychological safety, like I could let my guard down a little—to be more open and approachable (and to actually have fun). For the first time, I truly felt the power of the SHPE Familia. For myself.
As I struggled with the feeling of finality and closure after the Convention was over, it was the SHPE Familia—William and Favian—who reminded me that this year was just the beginning of something greater.
Now, as we start to lay the groundwork for our 2020 Convention in Denver—we already have the theme: Ascend to Transcend—I can’t help but feel some of those same doubts: that attendance will drop; that the energy and engagement won’t be as high as it should be. But I also know that past performance is the greatest indicator of future success, and if the last couple of years are any sign, there’s no reason to believe we can’t reach an even higher summit next year. The SHPE Familia taught me that, too.
For all of these lessons—how to be more open; how to appreciate my own work and self-worth—I am grateful. For the two SHPE members who picked me up when I was down, I am grateful. For my National Board and Regional and Chapter leaders, for our Industry Partnership Council, our 11,000 members, and my incredible, dedicated, ridiculously talented team, and all the many amazing volunteers, I am grateful.
And for my entire SHPE Familia, who has taught me more in two years than I could hope to learn in another lifetime—how to listen, how to better serve, how to truly believe in myself—I am eternally grateful.
As we enter the holiday season, I can’t wait to spend some much-needed quality time with my parents and sisters and their families, for whose love and support I am equally, endlessly thankful. But know that I will also be thinking of you, my SHPE Familia, and how you reinforced my own belief in myself—as a person, as a proud Latina, and as a leader in our Hispanic community. Thank you for making this past year—and the convention that capped it off—one for the record books.
More importantly, thank you for reminding me what true empowerment looks like. It’s a gift I’ll always cherish, and one I’m more determined than ever to pay forward.
Mil gracias. Un abrazo fuerte.
Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO