Each step across the commencement stage at Wayne State University felt unreal to Angel Delgado. The short and direct walk culminated a long and circuitous journey, and set the stage for a new journey that will take him halfway around the world to fulfill a childhood dream.
In the audience were Angel’s parents, siblings and close friends. Angel is the first in his family to graduate from college. His parents came from Puerto Rico and settled in southwest Detroit, where Angel was born. He is now 30 years old.
“To know where my son started and the struggles he’s overcome, and then to see where he is now, I was so excited and proud to watch him get his degree,” said Angel’s mom Anec.
Angel dropped out of high school in his junior year. He wasn’t motivated in school because he couldn’t connect an education with any career possibility that interested him. So he went to work in a series of manual labor jobs, while saving some money so he could one day take a trip to Japan.
Ever since he was a child, Angel has been fascinated with Anime, a Japanese style of hand-drawn or computer animation. That fascination intensified after he dropped out of school. At 24, Angel decided he would appreciate the Anime images even more if he didn’t have to read the subtitles that translated the Japanese dialogue. So Angel became determined to teach himself Japanese, studying the language for several hours each day, cultivating social media contacts and conversations with Anime fans in Japan, and researching the culture.
A year later, Angel used his two-week vacation from work to go to Japan to meet his online friends in person and travel across the country. The trip was a revelation. There was now no doubt in his mind about what he wanted his future to include. Angel wanted to live and work professionally in Japan.
The day after Angel returned from Japan, he enrolled in Southwest Solutions’ Adult Learning Lab, across from Clark Park, and less than a block from his parents home. Even as he continued to work the night shift at a packaging plant, he applied himself at the Learning Lab. Angel was able to earn his GED in about six months.
“The hardest subject for me was math, which I could barely remember since it had been so long since I took it,” Angel said. “But the staff and tutors at the Lab helped me a lot, and in six months I was doing algebra. I can truly say that without the convenient hours and excellent staff at the Lab, it would have been much harder for me to get my GED.”
After passing his GED, Angel continued to study at the Learning Lab for the ACT college entrance exam. He earned a high enough score to enroll at Wayne State in the fall of 2013. His goal was to double major in Japanese and Linguistics.
For the first three years at Wayne State, every weekday Angel would work his eight-hour night shift at the factory, take a one hour nap, attend classes, study and do coursework, and then catch two hours of sleep before heading to work. It was a relentless schedule, but he still managed to maintain a high “B” average.
His only break in this schedule was in the winter semester of his sophomore year when he studied abroad in Japan. The experience affirmed his determination to pursue his goal.
With his degree and double major in hand, Angel will be heading to the city of Aomori in northern Japan at the end of July. He has secured a job through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. His plan is to teach in Japan for three years and also research for his intended Master’s thesis, which will analyze the syntax of Ainu, an endangered language spoken only on the Japanese island of Hokkaidō. Angel eventually wants to get his Master’s through the Linguistic Department at the University of Hawaii.
“After that, I will either teach or work as a translator,” Angel said. “But I will never leave southwest Detroit behind. It will always remain the place I consider home.”