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Golden ticket: Minnesota West student redeems free tuition credit 18 years since receiving it

Oscar Martinez receives a free tuition credit certificate from Minnesota West Community and Technical College Provost Jeff Williamson on Friday. Williamson endorsed the certificate in 2000; Martinez received it for being the first Minnesota baby born in the new millenium. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Some might say Oscar Martinez was born a lucky man.

The first baby across the entire state to be born in the new millenium, Worthington-area community organizations welcomed the newborn and his family with a variety of goodies despite having no future ability to recollect his fortune.

Next week, the Worthington native will finally redeem his last certificate from that gift basket his parents kept tucked away in a drawer the past 18 years. As he begins his post-secondary educational journey Monday, he’ll cash in his “one free tuition credit” at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

“I’m glad my parents saved that certificate,” Martinez said about the bright yellow slip of paper valued at $171.53. “If it was me, I would have lost it right away.”

The certificate is perhaps the only one of its kind and definitely the first brought forth for redemption, said Amber Luinenberg, Minnesota West director of marketing, enrollment and communication. It was endorsed by former college dean and current provost Jeff Williamson.

“At that time, I never dreamed that someone would actually hang on to it and bring it back,” Williamson said, chuckling.

Martinez said his parents, Patricio and Fransisca Martinez, had told him when he was younger that the certificate existed, but he never physically saw it until his senior year. He took it to his guidance counselor, which posed as an entry way to conversing about his future plans beyond graduating from high school in May.

Unbeknownst at the time of endorsement, the college and community may ultimately realize a return on its investment, as the 18-year-old aspires to become a teacher at Worthington High School.

A participant in Minnesota West and District 518’s inaugural Introduction to Education course last spring, Martinez said it’s somewhat ironic he now wants to be a teacher.

“I used to be like, ‘ugh, teachers,’ and did not want to wake up and go to school,” he said. “Now I do want to wake up early to go to school.”

He said there were a variety of factors that resulted in an attitude shift from his previous thought that teaching would be a last career choice.

His initial influence was Patrick Mahoney, a Worthington High School social studies teacher Martinez said is highly respected by students, including him. Martinez acted as Mahoney’s student assistant during his senior year.

“He gets the kids to interact in class,” Martinez said of Mahoney. “Things are very unorthodox, but I think that is just great.”

As someone who loves to communicate, watching Mahoney teach made Martinez begin believing education would be a good career choice for him, too.

He got a taste of being an educator last year with the help from WHS Principal Josh Noble, he said. The bilingual student filled gaps in his senior-year schedule by assisting in English as Second Language classes.

The result was rewarding, he said.

“It made me feel great at the end of the year,” he said. “(ESL students) congratulated me (on graduating) and thanked me at the end of the year. It made me feel good inside.”

Martinez said another key factor in his desire to become a teacher is how it’s minimized as a valuable career.

“The position doesn’t get the respect it deserves,” he said. “You have to go through four years of education, be patient as a teacher, and it takes a lot of requirements.”

He hopes to one day make the kind of difference Mahoney made in his and get to know as many people as possible.

He also wants to help “build up” his hometown.

“I feel like this is a good town with so much potential and cultural diversity,” he said. “One day I’d like to come back and help build it — maybe as a citizen, member of a board or something. I’d like to help it be better.”

Martinez is the first to admit his direction may change, but right now with a bright yellow certificate in hand, he’s fueled with all sights on the goal ahead.

“Hopefully I can achieve it,” he said.