Ivonne Garza is a human rights lawyer and alumna of San Roberto International School. Her story is part of a series of films celebrating alumni success from across the Nord Anglia Family. Hear Ivonne bring her journey, from studying in Mexico to changing lives in Washington DC, to life.
This film was created from a remotely recorded interview with Ivonne where she discussed how her education at San Roberto inspired her to want to make a difference on the world and change people’s lives for the better. Read the blog below to discover the full story in Ivonne’s own words, exploring what motivates her and the experiences that have shaped the person she is today.
My name is Ivonne Garza and I am an alum of San Roberto International School in Monterrey, Mexico. I'm currently based in Washington DC, working as an Associate at the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, part of Georgetown University Law Centre.
I studied at San Roberto from six to 15 years old and it was a very good foundation to learn about discipline, academic rigor and global preparedness. San Roberto isn’t only about academic rigor in the Mexican sense, but in the global sense. It really prepares you to participate in any place in the world.
San Roberto were on the top of innovative education and standards, always thinking “what should we teach our students in terms of basic knowledge, but also in terms of skills, computer skills, critical analysis, math?” I was on IB math which prepared students to participate from whichever program academically they were trying to pursue. I know many of my former classmates went and pursued IB education in high school and San Roberto allowed for that.
San Roberto provided the normal courses and classes and also ensured that every student would acquire language skills. This has been very important for my life as I work in an international sphere where I speak a language that is not my mother tongue every day. Being able to have foreign teachers in ensuring that I would speak English fluently as I did, also French, allowed me to grow as a professional and to have enough skills to compete in a market and a world that runs in a very competitive way. Languages have opened so many doors for me.
San Roberto also really shaped me as a person and contributed to my growth and the vision of the world that I carry to today - a world that is empathetic, that offers opportunities for all, that works on the idea of equality and with human rights as a central and main approach to everything that we do. I think as long as we keep in ourselves this sense of awareness and participating in something larger, we make this world a better place for everyone.
San Roberto gave me space to really nurture my curiosity and to explore what I was good at and interested in. We had opportunities to explore sports - for a long time I was in the basketball team - and the arts. I was a part of the theatre club and had many years of dancing lessons. These really marked my life in terms of my interests beyond my career as a lawyer. Life has a very nice pathway through art, through the expression of music. I continued to study music until I was in college and I did opera lessons until I was 22. This is a very important part of who I am and the interests I have in the hours that I don't work as a lawyer. I try to go to concerts and music, and I invest a lot in museums and art, and I love reading. This is something that I got from San Roberto.
San Roberto really nurtured the idea that you could do whatever you want. I was always told that I could achieve anything and that I had no limits. I fully believe in the power of inspiring people to have be open-minded and to think of themselves beyond the place where they grow up and where they see. San Roberto nurtured this idea in me that I could approach the world - not only Mexico or my city Monterrey. Yes, of course I was Mexican, but I was a citizen of the world, we were not limited to our country, and our immediate environment, San Roberto was an open door to the world.
This started in the classroom - we had children from other countries sharing the class with us and we had access to world tools. We had professors from all around the world coming to teach. This was really important to me especially as a migrant. I'm really proud to be a migrant in a country that I now call home but is not my home country. I have two homes - maybe more because my heart is in France – but it’s this strong idea of being a citizen of the world. It's hard to do but San Roberto succeeded.
I don't only speak for myself but also the amazing things that colleagues who also studied at San Roberto have done and are doing for the world. I have colleagues who are in medicine, research, accepted in Harvard, colleagues in law and those who are in business and tech and innovation and all the other things that Nord Anglia promotes. It's not only a San Roberto thing, but a Nord Anglia thing. Nord Anglia shares this vision of the world and promotes a sense of belonging that isn’t rooted in a specific place - it doesn't lose sight of that place, but it projects the world as a place of innovation, constant renovation and change.
Right now I think that the most important ability future generations will have to have is the ability to adapt and change. And through these experiences, through global connection, expansion and possibilities, you teach a lot about adaptability and change. We're learning that in the pandemic. You can't stand still. You need to constantly rethink yourself and move forward.
I'm also very thankful for the awareness on sustainability and ecology that I was exposed to at San Roberto, this is something that I carry with me everywhere I go. I remember very clearly how much I enjoyed learning how to recycle. We’d have competitions to see who brought more newspaper to the school to recycle and also a camping day. All of this was key to my awareness of the world and the role that I play in making sure that every decision I make is sustainable. I want to make sure that everything I do takes into consideration that I'm part of a community and not only an individual working on my own. San Roberto was very successful in instilling that and it's part of the values that they carry to today.
I remember certain experiences that were key to my development. The first one I would say is the exchange programme. When I was in eighth grade, I studied for three months at Canterbury school in North Carolina. It created my interest in traveling and really getting to know the culture of a new place, the way people live differently to my family and my environment in Mexico. I loved exposing myself to a different language, eating different things and having a different routine.
The thing that I'm most grateful for is the school exposing me, when I was really young, to the world of international affairs through its Model UN (MUN) program. At the time we had a professor, Ben Waver, from New York who decided that the school needed to start offering a MUN opportunity. We started to participate in certain competitions in Texas and in other parts of Mexico but then we decided to create our own competition in the city. I was luckily the first person, together with Alexandra Huerta, to have this Executive Secretary-General position and take the lead in organising the first MUN that San Roberto had ever hosted.
The challenge was very big as we wanted our MUN to be the size of international MUNs. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the money to support everything we needed, even food for all the participants! So, at the age of 14 we were reaching out to donors to raise the money. But this was a real-life simulation - people in organisations have to do this, they have to raise money, get resources, plan logistics, carry out speeches, fully prepare - even dressing up as a professional was part of the experience!
As an adult I've worked with big organisations in leading missions and visits that need the things. You need to plan logistics. You need to make sure that the person who is going to transport you from one place to the other shows up and is paid. And then you must make sure that the photographer takes the picture, and the journalist will write the press release. And then you have to develop and prepare a meeting with all the substantive information that you will present during the meeting.
I think the challenge of feeling that it was in my hands to make sure that the event could run, from snacks, to making sure the speech was well-delivered was a very huge responsibility. I remember drafting the final speech for the closing ceremony, and my friends always tease me because I cried as I was thanking everyone. I remember getting emotional in the part where I was thanking both the directors of the school and our families. My dad always said, “you can do it.”
I also remember very clearly that I was assigned to defend the issue of women in Senegal and how they were exercising their human rights or how they were being undermined. This first experience of defending Senegal as a country within a UN committee really planted my interest in continuing to work on the MUN and to my career now. It was key to shaping me and allowing me a critical thinking view to life. It inspired and motivated me to pursue this career and to participate in the defence and promotion of human rights around the world.
The MUN was less of a simulation but a real-life experience, at school. It started shaping my ability to react positively, counter-intuitively to listen to my own voice, to listen to others who knew more than I did, to think critically and to take those words and turn them into what I wanted to do. All of these skills you don't learn by sitting in a class but by participating of the world around you. I think that's the difference between having a school that offers very good learning sitting in a class or a school, like San Roberto, that goes further. The MUN is now a very known competition in the city and remains important for students today at San Roberto. I am glad to say that I was in the generation who first experienced this.
This opportunity allowed me to realise that I could be a part of that world. I could contribute to that level of thinking. And I don't think that my daily job now is very different from that exercise I did when I was 14 years old. I think the level and in-depth analysis we had to do, summarising an issue in a brief and providing solutions, and thinking about how we could contribute is something that I did at the time and continue to do now in the real world, in my job as a lawyer.
Many people when they think about education and what they want to provide their children with, in terms of the future, they think about college, the college experience, saving for college and making sure that your kid makes it to college. But my mom always used to say the basis for a successful career was elementary/high school to give you the foundations and will plant in you certain interests. When I think of myself now, and I look back to the places and the spaces and the experiences that shaped me, or that took me to who I am now, I always necessarily go back to San Roberto.
Saying that, San Roberto provided me with the sufficient tools and knowledge about a wide variety of issues and topics that I needed in order to be prepared for high school, college degree, and then Master's degree as I did. The foundations were all there in terms of basic concepts and knowledge that I needed to know – and San Roberto also went beyond that.
San Roberto opened the door so that I could receive scholarships to pursue a high school location in one of the most recognised high schools in Mexico, which is Tec de Monterrey. I got the scholarship and furthermore, I think all the accomplishments I had to then have a scholarship to go to Libre de Derecho de Monterrey, where I became a Mexican-trained lawyer and eventually Georgetown, where I also received a scholarship from both Mexican Instituto in Georgetown University to pursue my Master's there.
Studying in Mexico, I really wanted to do something abroad, so I feel very proud of having accomplished that. I am also very proud of being a migrant in the United States that has been able to achieve a successful career. And for this, I think there are several things that I could emphasise. One of them is probably achieving my goal of pursuing a master’s degree in the US - that was a big dream I had as a professional.
Something that I always dreamt when I was a little girl was to work on things that I learned about at school. I always heard about history and the UN, and how global leaders shaped policies and programs in our countries, and I was very interested in knowing more about how these entities worked, that seemed so abstract and so far away from my desk and where I was studying. I would always be asking what they were about and the important things they discussed. I feel very happy to see myself now as part of that world, one that I always dreamt of being a part of.
Considering growing up in Mexico and how my life has turned out to be it's very rewarding to know that, especially these last five years, I've been able to significantly contribute to the lives of people - that moves me and motivates me. I'm really proud of having had the opportunity to walk a road that is not as easy to walk and to have a professional life where I can be exposed frequently and actively to world issues, different cultures, and problems, and working to solve them.
I work to make this world better for everyone and to defend the basic things that might seem obvious, but we still have to fight for women's rights, equality for everyone, social justice, access to justice, and ensure everyone can get a representation of their voices in political and legal arenas.
I've been contributing to the development of human rights in favour of migrant persons. That includes migrants, asylum seekers, persons that have already been recognised as refugees, and displaced persons, as well as victims of human trafficking and stateless persons around the continent. More recently, I am starting to work with the intersectionality of health law.
Something that is important for me through my work is to contribute to ensuring better access to rights for people around the globe, especially in our region in Latin America - I find a lot of satisfaction in working with communities where the people have had experiences that have shaped me as a lawyer. Having participated in this arena through my work at the organisation of American States and at the Centre for Justice and International Law, where I did a lot of work in favour of victims of human rights violations. We don't have to go really far to encounter human rights issues or to be a person that really cares. I strive through my work to contribute to making the life of those around me better. And I think that San Roberto really shaped and nurture these ideal in me.
I received a recognition by the Mexican Supreme Court in 2015 for an essay that I wrote on access to justice for women in Mexico, and how we needed to enforce policies to ensure that women are represented, have access to lawyers and adequate legal defence to access the justice system in Mexico.
I'm very grateful for the opportunity of growing in San Roberto and the experience of becoming that I got from being a student there. I think I was able to be aware or have a big awareness sense of the world, to be very conscious of who I was, who I wanted to be and how that could contribute to the world that I live in, not only for me, but also for future generations to come. I think this has been something that has moved me to pursue things, to pursue academic education, to pursue academic opportunities, to pursue legal pathways and professional pathways to grow as a lawyer. Also to grow as a leader that I hope I can be for my community, to represent the voices and causes of women, the children and migrants.
I had a very strong motivation when I was 20. I had lots of energy to do many things and I never thought anything could stop me. I was very aware that I could reach anything I wanted to do. And this is an inner power that 20-year-olds think they don't have, but they have it. And once you turn 30, and 40, and 50, and you look back, you're like, "Oh, I want to be that 20-year-old again." I try to remind myself of my 20-year-old version or my 14-year-old when I was organising the MUN. And I try to honour my 14-year-old self by saying, what would my 14-year-old person would think of me now? And what would I want to say to that 14-year-old version of myself? I would say, believe, have faith in who you are, stress less about how you're going to get there. Just keep on believing and working for the things that you want and those will happen.
So hopefully many young San Roberto students will take on the world soon. I'm very hopeful I'm looking forward to see that in a few years and I know there's tons of them alre