Whether you were an adult or child, it was hard not to be impressed listening to Lincoln High School senior Oscar Vazquez talk to San Jose elementary school students today about his experience leaving Mexico City for Mountain View four years ago and the journey that awaits him as he prepares for college.

The 17-year-old left his hometown in Mexico to visit his father in Mountain View in the summer of 2007 and decided to stay and pursue his education, though he didn’t understand much English.

“I couldn’t even say ‘My name is Oscar’,” Vazquez said.

He said learning English was a challenge, however it was one that he not only overcame, but mastered, within a year by committing himself to an intensive learning process that included watching a lot of television and making friends with Spanish-speaking classmates.

Even though some of his classmates made fun of his accent, Vazquez learned English so well that when he started at Lincoln High School, he wanted to help other students struggling with the language and is now taking an advanced English class in his final year.

Next week, Vazquez will begin applying to colleges, and his list spans such heavyweights as Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and Johns Hopkins University.

His dream is to become a real estate broker and he credits his father, who works as a server at a Los Gatos restaurant, as his muse.

“My dad inspired me to become somebody who’s going to be successful and have what he didn’t have, which is a comfortable life,” Vazquez said.

For Vazquez, that means making enough money to support his family back home in Mexico City – which includes his mother, brother, and half-sister – and then donate to charities, an interest that developed on a school trip to New Orleans in April where he spent a week building homes.

“The biggest thing I like is to help people,” he said.

Vazquez was one of a handful of speakers who participated in the kickoff at Horace Mann Elementary School of the first ever, citywide “College Day” on Sept. 30. On that day, people from all walks of life will go to schools across every one of San Jose’s 19 school districts to talk about their journey to college.

The purpose is a simple, but important one – to motivate and encourage kids, no matter how young, to go to college.

“We believe that you start early,” said Vincent Matthews, superintendent of San Jose Unified School District. “You want to build a college-going culture.”

Matthews said that effort initially began 10 years ago when the district, which encompasses 19 schools, started using the A through G requirements, which refers to the high school courses required for entrance to the University of California and the California State University systems.

This morning, a gaggle of fifth-grade students at Horace Mann were given sage advice by figures like Mayor Chuck Reed, Rich Garcia, president of the San Jose Unified School District Board of Education, Lauren Visico, a second-year student at San Jose State University, and Dennis Cima, vice president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Cima has two daughters, ages 10 and 13, who attend schools in the San Jose Unified School District. He said it is important for members of the business community to be engaged in education by having employees visit schools or invite students to visit workplaces.

“That helps the education come to life,” he said.

College Day is coordinated by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and is supported by, among the various schools and community organizations, the mayor’s office, the County Office of Education, San Jose Unified School District, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley’s Center for Educational Partnerships.