Senior Lisa Garcia calls herself a “Kwiker Kid.” Had it not been for the scholarship she received from Lou Kwiker, ’56, JD’60, she does not believe she would have been able to attend U-M or been part of the LEAD Scholars Program. Now majoring in international and comparative studies with a minor in law justice and social change, Lisa will start a fellowship in Latin America following graduation. She will spend her fellowship year working with human rights NGOs for the sustainable development of small communities.
In this essay, Lisa honors Lou, who died on Feb. 28, 2019.
Lisa and Lou
The first time I met Lou, it was early in my senior year of high school. I had heard all about this grand and successful man who was going to interview me for a U-M scholarship he had endowed. As I waited nervously in the hall of the superintendent’s office, a tall, older gentleman asked if he could sit next to me. He joked that if they were giving away scholarships, he would like to be next, please. We laughed and made small talk, then as we were ushered into the meeting room, I realized he was Lou Kwiker.
He told me all about U-M. I’d never heard much about the University or its prestige, but hearing Lou talk about his time in Ann Arbor made me itch with curiosity and excitement. My dream was to go to school outside my home state of California. I wanted to go across the country, experience a different culture, and learn to be more independent. He explained that the stakes were high, as his scholarship program was being put to the test for the first time.
Lou’s goal was to increase diversity at U-M by making college more accessible to Southern California students of color from low-income families. I’m a first-generation college student and also a first-generation American. My family immigrated to the U.S. in 2007 and with difficulty created a new life for ourselves.
Thanks to Lou, I received the scholarship and became one of the first four “Kwiker Kids,” as we called ourselves. When I arrived at U-M the following fall, I could see that everything Lou had told me about the University was true. I felt like I could do anything I wanted to do, from studying abroad to doing independent research.
After my freshman year, I spent the summer interning at Lou’s solar company, where our friendship grew stronger. Even if decades of life experience separated us, we understood one another.
As my mentor, he fueled my ambition. I took on analysis projects in asset management and learned about sizing and implementing photovoltaic systems. I learned about sustainability, small business, and the public school system through my internship. Over lunches, we would discuss politics, philosophy, poetry, and the blues.
Lou helped all of us “Kwiker Kids” to believe in ourselves. He became a part of our families, and we are all immensely grateful for his presence in our lives. He was always honest, tough, fair, and kind. He was truly an angel on Earth. Sadly, he died on Feb. 28.
I was fortunate enough to attend Lou’s funeral, where I met others whose lives Lou had touched. It is a true privilege to be a living legacy of his generosity and wisdom. He dedicated his life to access and opportunity, and he inspired me to do the same.
It breaks my heart that I don’t get to invite him to my graduation in just a few weeks. I will honor and celebrate his spirit for the rest of my life. And I will always remember the last lines of his favorite poem by Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken.”
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
It was Lou who gave me a different road to take in life.
Lou Kwiker was an early advocate of the LEAD Scholars Program, which provides scholarships to black, Latino, and Native American students who have been accepted into the U-M. Visit umalumni.com/LEAD to learn more about how the program is helping to create a more diverse campus.