City Squash
Enabling New York City youth to fulfill their academic,
athletic and personal potential.

Bash 2019 Keynote Speech and Performance

CitySquash team member Juan S. brought down the house with his keynote speech and performance at the 2019 CitySquash Bash. Click below to see his spoken word performance and read his speech below the break.


Thank you so much Mrs. Ingrassia and Mr. Ingrassia and thank you to all of you for being here tonight.

My name is Juan and I am going to talk to you about family. About the families we’re born into, the families we create for ourselves, and the families that we’re welcomed into through fate and coincidence and good fortune.

My own family is originally from Huixtac Guerrero in Mexico. It’s a small town tucked away in the mountains without a single police officer. It’s a place with a lot of poverty and few opportunities for work or education. With their children in mind, my parents left their own families behind and moved my siblings and me to the Bronx, New York. My parents have since separated and my mother works long hours in a bakery to support us. My mother’s work ethic is incredible and my siblings and I all take after her in that way. From my family at home, I have learned that hard work leads to success. I have learned to have pride in Mexico, the country of our roots, and I have learned independence and self-sufficiency.

In 6th grade, I tried out for CitySquash and found myself attracted to the family feel of the program. A lot of my extended family is still in Mexico, so the idea of being around the team members and staff members felt like being with aunts and uncles and cousins. At first, I wasn’t that into the sport of squash–it was so hard!–but I loved being with the people on the team. Because my mom worked so much, my home could feel lonely and I looked forward to being with the group at CitySquash in the afternoons. The daily support and laughter made middle school a happy time for me. I looked up to the older team members and eventually got better at squash and began to enjoy the squash part of CitySquash, too. Thanks to the help of CitySquash, the work ethic my mother instilled so deeply in me, the incredible generosity of the Cerullo Family, I was admitted to Poly Prep for high school. I was excited about the opportunity, but the daily commute was going to be over two hours each way. I wasn’t sure it would be possible for me to accept the offer. That was when the universe sent me yet another family to help me along my journey.

Through CitySquash, Mrs. Ingrassia and Mr. Ingrassia learned about my acceptance to Poly and offered me a room in their home in Brooklyn Heights. I was not just given a room, though. For three years, I was given love and care and parental worry and advice. I was given three other brothers and a sister in Jake, Brian, Abby and Henry. I was given second chances and family dinners and games of cards and practical jokes and vacations. Often, Mrs. Ingrassia would send me upstairs to make Henry do his homework and we’d end up just sitting around and talking about school and life. So many memories that I’ll never forget. They took me bowling, they took me to the movies, they took me on their family vacations to Connecticut and Florida. They shared their world with me. Some nights, I would eat dinner alone with Mr. Ingrassia and I will always remember talking with him about his career and how he got to be as successful as he is today. I will always remember the pieces of advice he gave me about how to keep my emotions in check and stay focused on what is in my control. From the Ingrassias, I learned the importance of spending quality time with your family no matter how busy everyone is. I learned how much can be gained from talking at the dinner table. I have taken those lessons home with me to my family in the Bronx. I am now the one that makes us eat together when I am home. I try to make time to talk with my mom and my siblings and to think of fun outings for us to do together. I thank the Ingrassias for many, many things but one of the main ones is the way in which they helped me help my own family become closer.

For my senior year, I moved to live with the Barzdukas family, another warm and caring group of people who opened their home to me. There are few graduates of Poly Prep who can say they’ve watched late night basketball games with the Headmaster while he dozed off after a long day. Mr. Barzdukas, living with you has taught me how hard it is to run a school. I admire your work ethic and all you do for the Poly Prep community. Mrs. Barzdukas thank you for opening your home, for always making sure I had a delicious meal ready after coming home late from squash matches, and for our morning coffee chats before school. And Rimas, I’ll never forget how you blasted music that day to cheer me up after I lost my match to Squash Haven. I’m glad dance parties will be a part of my legacy in your home.

Thanks to the help of all of these different families, I was recently admitted to be a part of another one — The Posse Foundation — and I’m proud to say that through their program, I will be a freshman at Middlebury College this fall.

I stand here tonight on the cusp of a new experience at a new school in a new state far away from here. But when I head to college, I will be bringing all of my different families with me. I will be bringing Mexico and the Bronx and Brooklyn. I will be bringing advice and encouragement from my parents, from CitySquash, from the Ingrassias, the Barzdukases, and so many of my other teachers, coaches, and advisors at Poly Prep—especially my Spanish Teacher Mrs. Iracheta, my college advisor Emily Gardiner, and my squash coach Ben Oliner. I look forward to the people I’ll meet along the way and to the new families I’ll become a part of. Thanks to all of you here tonight for supporting this program that set so much of this in motion for me.

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