Two decades ago Carlos Perez felt like he was going nowhere. He had graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx in 1996. The Dominican-born Perez loved playing baseball but no colleges were showing any interest, so he went to work. “I spent two years at a dead end job as a stock boy when I came across a baseball coach and a school that were willing to take a chance on me.”
In the spring of 1998 Perez met OCC head baseball coach Joe Antonio and his life changed forever. “He introduced me to a team of individuals who dedicated their time to ensure my success.” The team of individuals included Terry Ancona, an admissions officer who helped Perez enroll and formed a lasting bond with him. “She was a mother figure whose door was always open whenever needed.” There was Bonnie Belcher, Director of the Educational Opportunity Program. “She took me in as her personal student and instilled a ‘yes you can’ attitude in me that never allowed me to give up.” Another critical person was financial aid officer Tanya Rodriguez. “She went above and beyond her assignment to make sure all necessary funding was covered so I didn’t have to worry about money. Finally, Perez remembered guidance counselor Tim Singer. “He taught me how to think outside the box, how to manage time, emotions and life as a whole.”
Thanks to his own hard work and the support system around him, Perez earned a degree in Humanities two years after arriving on campus. Lessons learned at OCC in the classroom, on the baseball field and through conversations with his mentors formed the foundation upon which all future success would be built.
Saturday, April 14 Perez returned to OCC. He arrived on campus with a bus load of students from The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology where he is the Dean of School Culture and the Head Baseball Coach. They had boarded the bus in the early morning hours and made the trip up from the Bronx. “I brought 45 students to expose them to the college experience and show them what it takes to get there. That is, their academic excellence starts in the ninth grade and continues throughout their high school career.”
Perez also used the opportunity to share his journey with the students. “Many of them know I hold a master’s in Education and a bachelor’s in Sociology from Syracuse University but didn’t know the road I took to get there. I needed them to know Onondaga Community College was the bridge that took me to that place.”
During Open House, Perez stood proudly inside the SRC Arena. The building didn’t exist when he was an OCC student. He marveled at the many improvements which had been made across campus and reflected on the College’s impact on him. “The people who helped me and this place were part of the magic that made OCC feel less like a community and more like a family. I’m proud to have grown up here, to have become a student here and most of all to have become a graduate. I was also quite proud of how much the college had expanded and developed. Many of the things that were just words, thoughts and ideas at the time had come to fruition and I was seeing them with my own eyes.”
The visit was equally impactful for his students, many of whom looked tired when they arrived and gained energy throughout the visit. “They were impressed with the facilities and never imagined that a two-year school could have so much to offer. More importantly, students said they were now more likely to consider OCC and other two year colleges outside New York City once it was time to apply to college.”