Northeastern Illinois University honored the first Latino senator in the Illinois General Assembly and first Latino City Clerk of Chicago Miguel del Valle with the Distinguished Alumnus Award during the annual Golden Gala and Alumni Awards. This year’s ceremony, emceed by internationally acclaimed comedian, public speaker and entrepreneur Mona Aburmishan, took place virtually Oct. 16.
Del Valle was elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 1986. In his 20 years of service in the Assembly, he became Assistant Majority Leader and served as Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Consumer Affairs Committee, and Senate Select Committee on Education Funding Reform, and was Vice Chairman of the Higher Education Committee and a member of the Revenue, Appropriations, Labor, and Executive Committees. He was also the co-founder of the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus and a member of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.
The Distinguished Alumnus Award is the highest honor Northeastern bestows upon alumni. As is tradition for winners of the Distinguished Alumnus Award, del Valle (B.A. ’74 Secondary Education-Spanish; M.A. ’77 Guidance and Counseling) will deliver remarks to the graduates during the December 2021 Commencement ceremony, which is scheduled to be held in person Dec. 12 at the Credit Union 1 Arena.
Before running for public office, del Valle worked with several community-based agencies, organizing and providing direct services and institution building. He was Unit Director for the Union League Foundation for Boys and Girls Clubs, and Executive Director of Association House, a human services agency in Chicago. He also did work for the Pilsen-Little Village Community Mental Health Center (now known as The Pilsen Wellness Center, Inc.) and the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
Del Valle is a graduate of Chicago Public Schools, and currently serves as President of the Chicago Board of Education, a post appointed to him by Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019.
During his Golden Gala speech, del Valle recalled that, when he started attending Northeastern, he was a much different person than he is today.
“When I started here, I was a shy fellow, let’s put it that way,” del Valle said. “I took a speech class because I wanted to deal with my shyness, my fear of public speaking.”
In his first speech in class, he explained why he had participated in a student demonstration that highlighted the need for more support services for Latino students and to increase Latino enrollment at NEIU.
“In speaking about that, I felt so good,” del Valle said. “I gained so much confidence from that experience, and at that time I did not envision myself running for office, then going on to primarily do public speaking. So, it was here that I conquered that fear and I’ve been talking ever since.”
As a student, del Valle worked with other Northeastern students and University administration to create Proyecto Pa’Lante, a transition program for Northeastern students entering the University from high school. Through Proyecto Pa’Lante students receive holistic advising from a bilingual and bicultural staff focused on Latinx identity development, leadership skills, academic success, major exploration, and intercultural competencies.
“Coming to Northeastern set me on a track that I knew, not only did I want to be on, but I knew I would be on for the rest of my life, and that was the track of being able to be of service to my community,” del Valle said. He continued, “Here we are, 50 years later, and we can look back and really see Northeastern evolve from a school where just a handful of Latino kids attended, at the time, felt unsupported, to the school today, being officially a Hispanic Serving Institution. I’m proud of that. I’m very proud of that.”
Northeastern honored four more individuals during the Golden Gala:
Alumni Service Award
B.A. ’82 Secondary Education, Physical Education
Community Leadership Award
B.A. ’13 Justice Studies; M.A. ’18 Community and Teacher Leaders
Outstanding GOLD Alumni Award
Dr. Samniqueka Halsey
B.S. ’11 Biology
Future Alumni Leader Award
NEIU Student, Biology