The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Speaker tells how he went from gang member to graduate

By Bethany Sanderson/reporter

Jonathan Perez told an audience of students of his love for school at a young age.

“I thought I must be a nerd because I liked school so much,” he said.

Perez, now 27, reminisced during his keynote speech for NW Campus’ Student Success Conference of his journey from gang member to TCC graduate.

Perez matured without knowing his biological father, who died six months after his son’s birth. Perez lived in the Stockyards area of Fort Worth with his stepfather and mother, a native of Guatemala, and seemed an average student.

He involved himself with the wrong crowd of friends and abandoned all passion for learning. He described taking part in gang activity such as tagging on walls.

A shooting accident of a close friend opened Perez’s eyes. He vowed to clear his head and give school another try.

However, Jonathan dropped out of school at 17. He began working full time but still longed to pursue his degree.

He said his late grandmother influenced his direction.

“Had my Mama Marta been there, she wouldn’t have given up on me,” he said.

After his other grandmother died, Perez returned to education. He obtained his GED, and in 2005 at the age of 22, he enrolled on NW Campus.

Unsure of the classes to take, Perez decided to attend a history class and found himself lost.

“I didn’t know how to study, didn’t know how to take notes,” he said.

Yet as the semester progressed, he applied himself.

“I felt so proud,” he said. “I took my first test and I passed!”

Working two jobs and carrying a full load of classes each semester, Jonathan graduated in three years and transferred to the University of North Texas in 2008. Currently a college senior, he expects to receive his bachelor’s degree in December 2011.

Perez encouraged young students attending the conference by motivating them to succeed.

“I will not be another Latino dropout who ends up in debt or in prison,” he said. “I continue to work with youth and will not give up on them even if they have given up on themselves.”

Perez’s advice for all students: “Continue to strive for more as you start each day.”

A freshman at Lake Worth High School and a student at the Marine Creek Collegiate High School, Raymond Morren, 15, said he was helped by Perez’s presentation.

“Jonathan is a good person to know. He works hard,” he said. ”If you believe in yourself enough, you can do anything.”

Perez seeks a career in the criminal justice field. He seemed confident he would reach his goals.

He was nervous about speaking at the conference but said he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

“I was scared but wanted to make an impact,” he said. “I wanted to inspire people. I wanted to make sure to get a good message across to everyone to not give up and you can overcome anything if you put your mind to it.”

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