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BVU Senior from Harlem Sees Campus for the First Time

Distributive major focuses on digital media and storytelling, graduates after 13 scholarships and years of hard work.

Javier Sarmiento left home in Harlem, N.Y., on Wednesday, May 4, clad in LeBron James sneakers, Golden State Warriors jacket, and a Portland Trailblazers cap. He hopped in a taxi, boarded a flight for Des Moines, then took another taxi 155 miles to finally arrive on the lakeshore campus of Buena Vista University, a place and people he’d come to know as an online student.

“The people and the campus are both beautiful,” said Sarmiento, a trailblazer for his family, as a first-generation college student. “I kept telling myself I’d get to BVU to graduate. I got here.”

His mother shed tears of joy when he left at dawn. She cried again on May 7 as her 25-year-old son held his diploma high, a crowning achievement that mixed pluck, grit, talent, and a keen eye for scholarships.

Sarmiento graduated from Central Park East High School in Harlem in 2016. He became the first of his family to earn a college degree of any form when he earned an associate degree at Gutman Community College in New York City. He then enrolled at the College of Staten Island but left after a semester.

“I had a two-hour commute involving a train, a ferry, and a bus,” he says. “It wasn’t for me.”

Sarmiento took a gap semester, then Googled “US Best NCAA Division III Colleges.” Instantly, a photo of the Buena Vista University campus came into view, a place annually rated as a “Best Value” among Midwest Universities by US News & World Report.

“I saw a picture of the football field (Peterson Field at J. Leslie Rollins Stadium) with the lake in the background,” Sarmiento says. “I began reading about BVU Athletics and then read about the academic programs and what students were doing. I had to get there.”

Sarmiento opted to take a couple of classes at a time from home as his quest to attend college on BVU’s Storm Lake campus coincided with COVID-19 and the resulting closure of campus. He began searching for scholarship opportunities in earnest and used his writing ability, sharpened in BVU classes, to land select awards, a few at the $500 level, and others up to $2,500. In total, he earned $13,000 through 13 scholarships he sought out, funds that allowed him to graduate debt-free.

“Javier was a remote student, but you couldn’t tell because he was always so engaged.”

Dr. Andrea Frantz

An essay about LeBron James brought Sarmiento the Robert L. Vann Award for Sports Writing. He also earned an award through the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Media Federation, a chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, of which Sarmiento is a member.

He became a staff member of BVU’s online newspaper, The Tack, and the BVU Chapter in the Society of Collegiate Journalists (SCJ). His work as a BVU student earned citations as well.

“I want to tell stories as a sportswriter,” he says. “I want to write to support myself and live somewhere that is comfortable and safe.”

Sarmiento found comfort in BVU classmates who included him in discussions, production meetings, assignments, and more. They welcomed him upon his arrival days before graduation as his fellow members of the BVU Black Student Union invited him to La Juanita’s on Lake Avenue in downtown Storm Lake. BVU Professor of Digital Media Dr. Andrea Frantz recognized him at a senior awards ceremony and presented him with an SCJ honor cord and a gift.

“Javier was a remote student, but you couldn’t tell because he was always so engaged,” Frantz says. “He read everything on the BVU website and watched the BVTV YouTube channel and knew what was happening on campus. He worked and worked to keep himself connected to his peers and all that was happening at BVU.”

Once on campus, Sarmiento thanked his fellow Tack staffers, classmates, professors, and BVU staff members who have assisted him from afar. He attended the last night of BVU digital media capstone presentations and moved around the entirety of the campus, looking to connect faces with names from his email communications.

BVU gave him a room in a residence hall during his four-day stay on campus. And from that room, Sarmiento walked the hall, heading south. He stopped at a lounge on the third floor of Pierce Hall, a “sky box” that overlooks Peterson Field and Storm Lake, with its whitecaps and waves providing a picturesque backdrop. The writer knows Buena Vista is Spanish for “beautiful view.”

The days he dreamed about came into focus and culminated with a walk through BVU’s Victory Arch, an architectural centerpiece on campus that serves as a symbol of the University’s resilience as the structure rose from brick and concrete left in the wake of a devastating fire in 1956, a blaze that left BVU’s future in doubt. The Arch illustrates how a resilient BVU community bounced back.

Appropriately, it’s where Javier Sarmiento found himself on a sunny day in May, standing tall in the center of BVU’s picturesque campus.

“Anything is possible through the grace of God,” he says with a confident nod. “If I can do it, so can others. Never give up on your dreams.”

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