Rotary Scholarship Banquet: SPHS grad shares her own success story

June 03, 2016
Santa Paula News

Graduating Santa Paula High School Cardinals heard an inspiring story at their annual Rotary Club Scholarship Banquet where Dr. Patricia Perez spoke of her quest to be the best.

Held May 9 at historic Glen Tavern Inn Rotarians treated scholars and their families to an evening of celebrating accomplishment. Scholarship Award Winners 2016 were Vanessa Bazan, Mia Bustillos, Anahi Garcia, Jasmine-Guzman Nava, Paulina Garcia, Esmeralda Herrera, Veronica Landeros, Juan Magana, Nicole Mayes, and Isabel Payne.

Perez told the grads that her grandfather Don Jose participated in the guest worker Bracero Program, which led the family to move to Santa Paula in the 1950s. 

Santa Paula was ideal for two reasons: steady work at Limoneira that prevented her grandfather from making more family moves and good schools.

“Education was always important to my grandfather,” so good schools were a “key” to the move, said Perez. 

An avid reader, she cannot remember a time he was without a book, or even if only a “chapbook stuffed in his pocket.”

Her grandfather started as a picker on April 8, 1955 and made his way up a different kind of ladder — the ladder of success — retiring as a fruit receiver after more than 40 years with the company. 

Her grandfather’s belief in education is strongly demonstrated by his grandchildren: of the 29 all but two graduated from high school, four are presently attending college to receive their degrees, six have Bachelor degrees, two have Associate Arts degrees, two have Masters degrees and one — Perez — has a PhD.  

Perez’s father only had a 6th grade education and spoke only Spanish, “Which limited the opportunities available to him…”

Nevertheless, when he arrived in the US in the mid-1970s and entered the construction field his high intelligence soon became apparent through his talent with fixing anything. 

Their parents instilled in Perez and her two sisters that education “would open doors for us…they wanted us to better ourselves and take advantage of the opportunities available through education. They made sacrifices because they wanted us to have more choices.”

And that meant no job during high school work as Perez’s job was do excel in her studies. 

As the first in her family to attend a four-year university Perez admitted to great “culture shock” when she entered UCLA; after graduating in 1999 Perez attended Harvard and finally obtained her PhD in higher education and organizational change.

“I was motivated to pursue a PhD in higher education because I wanted to understand why there weren’t more people that looked like me in my undergraduate and graduate programs…failure was not an option.”

With Cal State Fullerton the tenured Perez is a scholar of education with a specific focus on higher education.

“In particular I research college access, choice, retention and graduation rates for Latino students and other students of color.”

The good new is that more and more Latinos are attending college but the troublesome news is about two-thirds are selecting community colleges and have a lower four-year university transfer rate.

One of the “barriers for college is cost…believe it or not there was a time when community college was free,” no longer the case.

When Don Jose passed away in February the family created Jose P. Garcia Memorial Scholarship with the SPHS Education Foundation. 

Perez offered advice: “Connect with your professors…sit at the front of the class literally in their face!” to “Get involved…join a student club,” or other activity to help strengthen statistics that show involvement and integration into campus life increases retention and graduation.

It is also important to ask for help and resources, of which there is much on college campuses. And, be healthy.

Perez left the graduates with a parting thought, a quote by Gloria Anzaldua, “Voyager: there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks…”

Before singing the SPHS Alma Mater to end the program, Rotary President Judy Phelps told the students, “Find your passion and follow it…”

Site Search



Call 805 525 1890 to receive the entire paper early. $50.00 for one year.