Unsung Hero: Bill De La Rosa, Bowdoin College student striving for the 'Common Good'

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BRUNSWICK — Bill De La Rosa’s record as class valedictorian and top student leader at the Pueblo Magnet High School in Tucson, Arizona, earned him designation as a Bill Gates Millennium Scholar and a Michael and Susan Dell Scholar.

He chose to enter Bowdoin College in 2012 because of the college’s small size and deep commitment to the “Common Good.” He was the first member of his family to attend college.

De La Rosa’s record of service at Bowdoin has been driven, in large part, by his own family background.

He moved with his family to Arizona from Mexico when he was 9 years old. Today, his father, who is 81 and has had a stroke, lives in Arizona; his mother was deported back to Mexico four years ago, and can’t return to the U.S. for another six years. He has an older brother, who is in the Marines, and two younger siblings.

As a first-year Bowdoin student, De La Rosa began volunteering as a teaching assistant at El Centro Latino de Maine in Portland, where he spends an hour every Thursday teaching English to Spanish immigrants.

“When I moved to the U.S. I couldn’t speak English, and a program like this would really have helped me,” he said.

Every Friday, De La Rosa spends four hours as a client interviewer at the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project in Portland. He answers phones, interviews callers, reviews matters with legal supervisors, and determines low-income client eligibility.

“I feel I’m really making an impact,” he said of the work.

De La Rosa was also chosen to be a U.S. delegate to the Forum for Cooperation, Understanding and Solidarity, a program initiated at Stanford University. Working with 14 other Americans and 15 Mexicans, he helps draft policy with the potential to influence bilateral affairs and promote positive U.S.-Mexico relations.

As to what should be done about the “immigration problem,” De La Rosa said, “An investment must be made in the rural areas of Mexico to increase economic opportunities, because no electric fence will stop people who are simply trying to survive.”

Speaking from personal experience, he noted, “We can’t just deport people.”

On another front, De La Rosa was chosen, along with 30 citizens from the U.S. and Canada, to serve on the State Farm Youth Advisory Board. In that capacity, he reviews grant proposals for State Farm’s signature service-learning program.

In the summer of 2013, De La Rosa worked as a research assistant for a project on undocumented migration. In that capacity, he collected and classified the belongings that undocumented migrants left in the outskirts of Arivaca, Arizona. His findings will ultimately be included in a book, “Undocumented: Violence, Suffering, and the Materiality of Clandestine Border Crossings.”

De La Rosa has also achieved a fine academic record at Bowdoin. After graduate school, he plans to enter law school and focus on immigration law. Ultimately, he said, he wants to run for national office.

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Bill De La Rosa

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net.