When Celso Vasquez came to Clinton in May 2015, he thought the spring weather refreshing.
The heat of summer reminded him of Guatemala, where the 12-year-old had left his parents to come live with an older brother in Clinton. But when winter came?
“I woke up one day and said what is that,’’ Vasquez said of snow. “That year I went home for Christmas and the weather was nice. But I never got used to how cold it gets.’’
Vasquez settled into life as a Clinton student in Middle School, finding soccer as his main outlet to make friends. After graduating from Clinton in 2020, Vasquez enrolled at Mohawk Valley Community College, where this month he obtains his associate’s degree before heading off to a four-year SUNY school.
He’s cleared a number of obstacles to reach these accomplishments, with the first one agreeing to leave his family and home behind and become a seventh grader in Clinton. “We lived in a tiny house and then I came to this big school,’’ he said. “I had to learn my way around.’’
Vasquez also had to learn English, finding it hard at first to engage in conversations. “I always said yes and smiled but I didn’t know the question,’’ he said. “I learned to use Google Translate.’’
His smile helped him make friends, but then in eighth grade he signed up for soccer. His coach was from Puerto Rico and knew Spanish, and suddenly Vasquez found both a reminder of home and someone who understood him.
“In Guatemala I played soccer when I wasn’t working on my family’s coffee plantation,’’ Vasquez said. “I liked it here on a team.’’
He played for the next four years through high school, and his English improved. Vasquez also found a love of history in the classroom.
In his native country the kids played on the streets, not a designated field, and there was no ball. “We had plastic bags we would blow up and kick around,’’ he said.
Remembering those conditions, in 11th grade Vasquez organized a fund raiser to collect used soccer gear. Those items would allow kids in his hometown to play the game with the proper equipment.
“They could not afford cleats, balls, equipment,’’ he said.
His endeavor gathered so much donated items Vasquez divided the items between his hometown and First Presbyterian Church in Utica to allow refugees and Utica soccer players to have equipment.
In his senior year Vasquez collected winter clothing for the Utica Refugee Center, remembering how his own first winter he did not have warm clothes.
His degree from MVCC is in General Studies, with a goal of teaching Spanish, with a minor in economics. “I always knew I wanted to help people like I was,’’ he said. “Teach and then some day have a business where I can provide jobs.’’
Vasquez has a jump…