As a teenager Nick Aguilar dropped out of Southwestern College to join the Army. At commencement he will be awarded the college’s most prestigious honor.
Aguilar is the 2011 recipient of an honorary degree from Southwestern. The Vietnam War Purple Heart recipient will be honored for valor as a soldier and courage as an elected official in the service of public education. He was the unanimous choice of SWC’s Academic Senate as well as the governing board.
Governing Board President Tim Nader said he has known Aguilar for 20 years and it was his honor to affirm the vote to award the honorary degree. Nader cited Aguilar’s 24 years of service on the Sweetwater Union High School District board, the San Diego County Board of Education and the SWC trustees.
“He has contributed in many ways to our community, including his service on three education boards,” said Nader. “We should all be grateful for his courage and service.”
In April Aguilar received the First Amendment Award from the Journalism Association of Community Colleges at its annual state convention in Sacramento for his staunch defense of the SWC college newspaper when administration attempted to halt printing. Newspaper advisor Max Branscomb said Aguilar was “a rock of courage and integrity” during the crisis and throughout his years on the college board.
“What he did last semester was very brave,” said Branscomb. “Everybody in the upper administration and on the board was against him and some belittled him, but that didn’t deter him. He demonstrated great courage and his strength gave strength to others. I will never forget Mr. Aguilar’s courage and integrity as long as I live.”
Aguilar migrated with his family to America when he was 7 years old. When his brother joined the Army he signed up as well and became a paratrooper. He was shot in a firefight with Vietcong guerillas and awarded the Purple Heart.
As he recovered he resumed his education at UCSD. Due to the low Latino enrollment, Aguilar said, he organized a protest, which became his inspiration to go to law school.
“I was in a time and place that made the importance of law clear and direct,” he said.
After earning his Bachelor’s degree, he earned a Juris Doctorate from UC Davis Law School. Aguilar became a staff counsel for UCSD and later Director of Student Policies and Judicial Affairs during his 27-year career.
Aguilar advocated for a program to raise the number of Latinos attending UCSD and established the Student Affirmation Action Program, the Rape Prevention Education Program, the Education Equity Program and other innovations. Aguilar led the statewide effort that made Veteran’s Day a holiday for the entire UC system. Aguilar said it was important to honor veterans with a day off.
Branscomb said Aguilar has spent his whole life as an advocate for education and the students who are pursuing their dreams through learning.
“He is a great public servant,” said Branscomb. “This community is blessed to have a man like Nick Aguilar who is so devoted to service leadership and who has the guts to do what is right even when there is a personal cost.”
Aguilar said he is extremely honored to be the college’s honorary degree recipient and holds the degree in high regard. He said the award represents the restoration of the collegial commitment to shared governance between the college’s faculty senate and the governing board.
“It’s my hope that the community, and especially the governing board, will take special care to preserve the collegial, collaborative and mutually respectful campus environment that I feel is now the norm at Southwestern.”