Gratitude and Rocket Science

Sylvia Acevedo thanks librarians for helping her reach the stars

January 27, 2019

Sylvia Acevedo at the ALA 2019 Midwinter Meeting in Seattle.
Sylvia Acevedo at the ALA 2019 Midwinter Meeting in Seattle.

Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo said she was excited to be invited to be an Auditorium Speaker at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Seattle because she wanted to say thank you. “Libraries and librarians changed my life. I would not be who I am today without libraries and librarians,” she told the crowd, which included a few young Girl Scouts in their distinctive green uniforms and badges.

Acevedo grew up on a dirt road in the desert of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the daughter of a Mexican-American father and a Mexican mother who spoke little English. They moved often and sometimes had to live with relatives because money was tight. But young Sylvia excelled in school, went to college and was one of the first Hispanics to earn an engineering degree from Stanford University, eventually landing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, where she worked on the Voyager 2 space probe.

She said kids hunger for positive books about ambitious girls, and that’s why she wrote Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) for young readers, which has been released in both English and Spanish versions. She said she would have loved to read a book like this when she was a girl.

Like a lot of kids, Acevedo had potential and ambition, but she said without the support of programs like Head Start—which helped her learn to read English—public libraries, and the Girl Scouts, she would not have succeeded.

The library was a refuge for her father. He went all the time, and he began taking her older brother Mario with him, but he didn’t take Sylvia. She had to prove to him that she was responsible enough to check out books—and pay for any damages—by saving $5 before she was allowed to get a library card (Mario, she noted, was under no such obligation).

Once she started going to the library regularly, she said the librarians opened up a world of opportunity to her. “It was my Google before there was a Google,” she said.

Acevedo credited the Girl Scout Cookie Program with changing her life because it taught her how to create opportunity for herself. She said she learned confidence, resilience, and persistence. She never left the site of a sale until she heard “no” three times, which helped her do battle against a high school guidance counselor who told her girls like her don’t go to college and definitely don’t study engineering.

She told American Libraries, “In Girl Scouts, one of our bedrock beliefs is in civic engagement, and we teach girls how to be civically involved from age 5 all the way through their entire Girl Scout career. As a result, more than half of all female elected officials in America are Girl Scouts.” She said walking into a library is a first step in civic engagement.

Acevedo closed her talk with plenty of gratitude for librarians, noting that it’s long overdue, so she’s glad it’s not a late-book fee.

Sylvia Acevedo on libraries as a “path to the stars.”

Sylvia Acevedo on libraries delivering hope.

Sylvia Acevedo on libraries, girls, civic engagement.

Sylvia Acevedo on math, libraries, and earning a science badge.


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