Keyla Acevedo-Hargis’ move to Michigan gave her a new perspective

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Registrar Keyla Acevedo-Hargis titled her imaginary biography The Adventures of a Puerto Rican in Michigan

After moving from Puerto Rico to Grand Rapids to attend college, Acevedo-Hargis was faced with the issue of finding her footing in the unpredictable times that come with being a college student. But, she had an added difficulty: the language barrier. Although she took English classes in high school, keeping up with native speakers proved to be a challenge.

“My world in Puerto Rico was very small, so it opened up [when I moved to Michigan],” Acevedo-Hargis, whose first language is Spanish, said. “I [had to learn] to be patient with language because MTV did not teach me everything. I [had to be] patient and learn to slow down.” 

Becoming fluent in English can be a seemingly insurmountable feat, but Acevedo-Hargis conquered the challenge; however, she didn’t do it alone

Though she is a graduate of Grand Valley State University, Acevedo-Hargis spent her first years as a Michigander as a student at GRCC. There, she was involved in a student-employee program which allowed her to continue a hobby she first became interested in back in high school: performing arts. 

“I worked in the theater,” Acevedo-Hargis said, “and that was the best group to be welcomed by because it was just so laid back. They didn’t make fun of my accent or if I said the words backward, because, let’s face it, English is backward.”

Acevedo-Hargis didn’t dabble in the on-stage aspects of theatre while at GRCC, but she managed to shine nevertheless, making friendships and memories that she still keeps with her years later. Her time spent in GRCC Theatre gave her an entirely new appreciation for theatre arts as well as a newfound confidence in her English speaking. 

Acevedo-Hargis came to Michigan with the intention of learning, and she never stopped. After getting over her fear when it came to speaking English, she was able to branch out further than before and gain a new perspective on her other interests—just like she did with theatre. For Acevedo-Hargis, the question isn’t what are you interested in but rather what aren’t you interested in?

“I like so many different things,” Acevedo-Hargis said. “I’m interested in politics. I’m interested in comedy. I haven’t narrowed down one thing that would define me.”

Though she’s not defined by her hobbies and interests, politics play a huge part in her life.

Unlike many others, Acevedo-Hargis became politically active at a very young age. Because of her history with politics, she’s grown to not only understand how they pertain to her but how they pertain to everyone—even those who deny their importance.  

I haven’t narrowed down one thing that would define me.”

— Keyla Acevedo-Hargis

“I grew up with a grandpa who was very engaged in politics in Puerto Rico,” Acevedo-Hargis said. “He was always running campaigns and running for himself, and you can say, ‘I’m not interested in politics,’ but it affects so many things that you don’t think about. I think people don’t know [how much] it affects them.”

Similar to her involvement in theatre, Acevedo-Hargis’ perception of politics changed dramatically because of her move to Michigan. 

Before she was a registrar here at FHC, she worked at Burton Middle School where enrolling students posed many different problems. Her experience at Burton gave her an entirely new outlook on a subject she hadn’t been as exposed to before.

“Immigration was a big issue,” Acevedo-Hargis said. “Not that it affected our daily lives, but it affected the kids, so [that] was something we had to think about. I got attached to so many families [at Burton], and I saw how [immigration] affected them.”

Although her care for others is what originally inspired her to work in schools, her time at Burton strengthened her empathy tenfold. 

Empathy is also the biggest factor in Acevedo-Hargis’ dedication to involving herself in new experiences any chance she gets. While confronting the differences in theatre, politics, and language were all significant learning lessons when moving to Michigan, what she learned the most about was how to meet new people.

For Acevedo-Hargis, trying new things is just an excuse to get to know others who you wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet otherwise. 

“I think it helps to diversify how you interact with others,” Acevedo-Hargis said. “It’s hard to make those conscious efforts when you’re a kid, but as you grow older, it helps to interact with everyone because [that’s when] you can start to develop empathy.”

From theatre to politics and everything in between, Acevedo-Hargis finds enjoyment in a myriad of hobbies and passions; however, one interest reigns supreme: her love for her job.

“I don’t have to work with students at all for what I do,” Acevedo-Hargis said, “but I make a point to go out there and try to interact with kids because I love working with teachers, and I love working with students, and I love working in schools.”