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Dignitaries and former students honor teacher Jaime Escalante at emotional memorial

April 17, 2010 |  4:56 pm

They called him their hero, their master, their tough-love mathematical equalizer.

In an emotional three-hour memorial ceremony Saturday, dignitaries from the governor to state and federal officials bid a fond farewell to Jaime Escalante. But it was the words of his former students — the engineers, administrators and teachers he inspired — that most moved the 600 or so people who gathered at the East Los Angeles College stadium.

“Here I stand,” said Elsa Bolado, a former student who is now a teacher, "with sorrow in my heart taking on once again a challenging assignment you have put before me: Having to say goodbye.”

On stage, Escalante’s black casket glistened beneath a spread of red roses and white lilies. The 79-year-old retired teacher died March 30 of bladder cancer. His half-dozen grandchildren watched from the front row; his wife, Fabiola, and sons Jaime II and Fernando sat nearby, surrounded by family who had flown in from Bolivia.

The ceremony began with a 9 a.m. procession from Garfield High School, made famous after Escalante propelled a class of students to succeed on a 1982 Advanced Placement calculus test. The feat and the controversy that followed when students’ results were challenged led to the 1988 movie “Stand and Deliver.”

Still, it was what Escalante achieved in the classroom in the years after the movie, that created his legacy.

“He made every student rise,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He made them into eagles.”

Edward James Olmos, the actor who became a close friend after playing Escalante in the movie, led the ceremony. Eulogies were presented, along with performances by Los Lobos and musicians and dancers from Escalante’s native Bolivia.

Ricardo Escutia, 49, sat in the bleachers proudly looking on with his two sons. He drove from Palmdale to make sure his boys, who are enrolled in advanced math, witnessed Escalante’s funeral.

“As a parent I need every tool to inspire them, and who better than Jaime Escalante?” he said.

Following the ceremony, relatives planned to bury Escalante at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier.

-- Esmeralda Bermudez

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