Travel log: my trip to the Final Four

Diego (3rd from left) and friends leaving Hobby Airport for Indy

Hey everyone!

My name is Diego Lopez and I’m a rabid Cougar fan heading to Indianapolis for the Final Four. How rabid am I? This is the first time in nine years as an HISD teacher that I’m missing school. This week I decided if I got tickets I had to go. My students are great and know how much UH means to me – they wished me a great trip. GoCoogs.com asked me to document my trip in a travel log – honestly, I was hesitant because I’ve never done this before. But hopefully, folks will be interested in my point of view and some UH enthusiasm sprinkled here and there.

Friday morning

So we’re here at the Lopez household and it’s a madhouse! MOSTLY because I made the stupid decision to get my second vaccine yesterday and I woke up not feeling great. DOH! I thought I’d be fine! I had absolutely NO symptoms with the first one except for a sore arm. I slept like 10 hours last night after the second dose and I still feel absolutely drained. YIKES! My flight is at 1:15 to Chicago and we’ll drive from there but oh my goodness do I feel absolutely beat.

A little backstory on why I love UH so much: My parents immigrated from Mexico during the amnesty program of the 1980s. My parents come from big families: my mom is one of eleven and my dad one of nine. Mom finished eighth grade and my father is actually illiterate, even in Spanish. He grew up in super rural Mexico in the 1960s and just didn’t go to school.

It was dad’s idea to bring my mom to the US and thanks to the amnesty program, they got to stay here. So I was born in 1989 at Houston’s LBJ hospital and grew up in Hiram Clarke, a ghetto if you will. Mom was a housekeeper for folks in the Braeswood and West U area and I was very fortunate that she put me in schools in those areas. I then went to Lamar HS as a magnet student.

And it’s at Lamar HS that my UH story begins.

I was part of the International Baccalaureate program and graduated 33rd out of 822 in my class. The top 5% got the special recognition of sitting on the stage and if students had made a decision for college, it was published in the program. Of the 42 kids on that list, I was the only one going to UH. Most of the kids were going to Ivy League schools or out to California. UH wasn’t even their backup school.

I got a lot of crap from people, and I still remember the salutatorian of the class scoffing at me, laughing and asking “Why?” As if going to UH was the worst decision in the world. I went to a “graduation party” and we wore name tags with our future colleges. I told this lady I was going to UH and she wrote “U of H?” on my tag. With the question mark! Like I should reconsider it! Ugh! The nerve! There were so many folks around me who disagreed with my decision and told me to my face and I started to doubt my decision. But thanks to a combination of grants and scholarships, I was going to UH for free! So I stuck it out.

While I was on Cullen, I had the time of my life. Best four years ever! In my sophomore year, my advisor emailed me requesting I sign my degree plan because I had over sixty hours. I remember thinking, “But I just got here!” So I slowed it down, only took 12 hours, and made sure to enjoy everything UH had to offer. I made friendships that will genuinely last a lifetime and I know now it was the best decision 18-year-old Diego could have made.

I’m now 31 and nearly a decade into teaching 4th grade in HISD. I guess I should ignore people that look down on UH. But I can’t! It’s why our school being on a national stage means so much to me. It adds respect to our school and our degrees. I’m SO proud to be a graduate of our University and I feel like everything I have in my life (career, home, etc.) is because of our alma mater.

Now, sports keep me connected to UH and it’s why I get so excited. I guess I’m just an extremely appreciative alumnus. I know plenty of kids in Hiram Clarke that didn’t go to college and I see how their lives ended up. Deep down in my heart, I believe the difference between me being in jail or working some dead-end job and the amazing life I have is that I had a wonderful loving mother and our beautiful school. I will always love them both.

Me and my mom at graduation

I tell you all of this so that you hopefully understand why being at the FINAL FOUR is such a privilege and a delight for me. I’m so dang excited, I can barely contain myself. I’m bouncing off the walls (despite 2nd vaccine symptoms) and I’m honored that this site’s editor thought my story would be special enough to share with all of you.

So I’m flying to Chicago today with my wife and my best friend, a Wisconsin dairy farmer (UH c/o 2014) and we’ll be meeting up with another friend (UH ‘13). We’ll be in Indianapolis for 5 days – hopefully flying back as national champions! We’ve already met some Cougars on this flight and I know this will be a magical weekend.

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