From The Back Of The Yards To The Front Of The Cause: Cutberto Aguayo Sets His Mark On Student Politics

April 19, 2016

By Martin Carlino

An old, beaten and worn-down pool table that sat in Dominican’s Mazzuchelli Hall caught Cutberto Aguayo eyes every time he walked past it during his freshman year.

One of Aguayo’s first acts as a Student Government Association (SGA) senator was replacing the torn, disheveled felt, broken pool cues and nonexistent chalk that came with that same pool table.

It has always been that kind of attention to detail and desire for change that has driven Dominican Senior Cutberto “Berto” Aguayo.

Aguayo’s story starts in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, on 48th and Union, where he grew up. Aguayo, raised by a single mother who had to work very long hours, got into trouble early on in his life.

At 13, Aguayo found himself involved in a neighborhood gang that kept its grip on him for nearly four years.

Aguayo then began high school, recalling that his early years were marred with trouble.

During his junior year at Chicago’s Garcia High School, Aguayo started off one day in an all-too- familiar place, the principal’s office. Although he was serving a suspension for a gang related fight, Principal Josephine Gomez gave him an application that would change the course of his life.

That application was for the Mikva Challenge program, which engages youth in the world of politics.

Prompted by the appealing deal of, paid, summer work, Aguayo applied for the program. Much to his surprise, he was accepted.

Aguayo now had his first political job, a position with Chicago Alderman Michele Smith. That experience sparked something.

“Once I got to the office, it was really badass to see how the world of politics worked,” Aguayo said. “It was an extremely transformative experience and it allowed me to really see my potential.”

While working under Smith, Aguayo realized there should be much more to his life than gang violence and troublemaking.

After the completion of his internship, Aguayo continued to push his life in this new direction. Senior year, he doubled his GPA from 1.5 to 3.0 in addition to removing himself from the gang.

As senior year came to a close, Aguayo said he applied to five colleges, one of which was Dominican. However, college was still a bit of a long shot for him, and the application to Dominican was at first, nothing substantial.

Sparked by the incentive of being able to attend his school’s prom, Aguayo sent his application to Dominican.

“The reason why I originally applied to Dominican was because I had to apply to five colleges in order to go to prom,” Aguayo said. “It was school policy. At the time, I never really considered myself as the kind of kid that was going to college.”

Aguayo changed his mind, and came down to Dominican to go over his financial aid package. It was then that he knew Dominican would be the right choice for him.

“Once I got into the financial aid meeting, it all looked affordable,” Aguayo said. “It seemed possible and once they showed me everything it was an easy decision. All the aesthetics were a stark contrast to my reality on the south side.”

Once at Dominican, Aguayo wanted to continue to build on his previous political experience and knew that SGA would be the best way to do so.

Aguayo applied to be a freshman senator and got the position.

“I was a little disappointed with how little we were doing,” Aguayo said.

Hoping to change the impression students at Dominican had regarding SGA, Aguayo decided to run for the SGA presidency, and won.

In his two years as SGA president, Aguayo push to expand the hours of Dominican’s technology lab and gym, helped initiate the installation of additional water fountains throughout the resident halls and lobbied hard for MAP grant support.

However, his proudest achievement was the janitorial service appreciation day he pushed for. Aguayo organized the event on April 9, 2015. All members of the janitorial service were given certificates and gift cards in recognition for their hard work.

“Janitors are some of the least recognized people on our campus,” Aguayo said. “I feel like they deserve as much recognition as anyone else. I was always taught that you should talk to the university president, the same way you talk to the janitors.”

When looking back at his tenure, Aguayo is very happy with the work SGA accomplished in those two years.

“We did so much, people forgot how irrelevant SGA had been,” Aguayo said.

Aguayo’s peers and professors also recognized the work he put in.

“Berto Aguayo really helped bring the office of the SGA presidency back to relevancy,” said Political Science Professor David Dolence. “He improved the relationship between SGA and many in the university.”

Outside of Dominican, Aguayo has gathered quite the political resume. He has worked on the campaign of Illinois Rep., Emanuel Welch, as well as being appointed to the My Brother’s Keepers cabinet, an initiative to build ladders for success for young men of color, by Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel.

Aguayo realizes that his life drastically shifted for the better and hopes to continue in that direction.

“I’m more interested in what people will say at my funeral, than what my resume will say,” Aguayo said. “As long as people remember me as someone who tried to do the best they could for their community, then I think I will die happily.”

Aguayo is set to graduate this spring and hopes to continue in the world of politics.