Orlando Vera Perez’s journey as an undocumented immigrant in the United States has not been easy, especially as a student paying out-of-state tuition and having to overcome obstacles including the inability to legally drive or work a job due to his status.
On top of these challenges, he misses his family in Mexico, where they are concerned for their safety and future. Since leaving his hometown of Monterrey in 2013, Perez has remained motivated through trials and tribulations with the hope that he will be able to help members of his family emigrate to the U.S.
“My sister was murdered in Mexico and my nephew is still there,” Perez explained. “I want to do this for them. I want my nephew to have the opportunities and quality education that is here in America. I want to pay for my nephew’s college and provide him with a foundation to flourish – he deserves that as much as I did. He doesn’t deserve to live in fear of staying out past dark because people are getting murdered in the streets.”
Perez recently received his U.S. residency and graduated with Polk State College’s 126th class, putting him steps closer to achieving his goals and improved quality of life for his family.
He explained that the process of obtaining his higher education and a rewarding career will now be easier with both his Polk State Associate in Arts degree and permanent resident card.
“For the last eight years I have had no social security number – I couldn’t legally drive or get a job. I couldn’t apply for financial aid. It made going to school hard,” he said. “Polk State was a good fit because it is very affordable for someone like me who has to pay out of pocket, and it’s a quality education – I am very grateful for it.”
Perez noted the College’s proximity to home and online course offerings, which were instrumental when he lacked transportation. He also expressed gratitude for the College’s knowledgeable and supportive faculty.
“They care about their students,” Perez said. “I saved myself two years of expensive tuition for the same education, if not better, due to the quality of the professors at Polk State. They understand a wide range of students and how to keep them engaged.”
“There are also so many resources,” he added. “I researched how to speed through my credits and pay less for college through opportunities including CLEP exams. This made it quicker and more affordable for me to complete my Polk State degree and transfer to a university.”
“Polk State was a good fit because it is very affordable for someone like me who has to pay out of pocket, and it’s a quality education – I am very grateful for it.”
All students with an Associate in Arts degree from Polk State qualify for the state of Florida’s 2+2 articulation agreement which promises admittance to a state university.
Perez, however, aspires to enroll at Western Governors University to study computer science and pursue a career in ethical hacking. He selected the private, online university based in Utah due to its accelerated, competency-based programming.
“I have always been interested in computers, but I cannot build something without purpose, and I cannot code something for no reason,” he explained. “That’s when I found cybersecurity and realized I could help build something and break it so that it can be built back up and made stronger with my input. It’s the perfect combination of creativity and logic – that’s my personality.”
At Polk State, Perez has maintained straight A’s and membership in the Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He is also an active member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and proudly mentors a third-grader at Crystal Lake Elementary.
A memorable experience for Perez during his time at Polk State was attending the Black, Brown, and College Bound Summit through the Honors Program.
“I learned so much about people who have struggled. You read success stories of people who came to America, were once very poor, and are now successful, but this was real – right in front of me,” he explained. “I was able to hear them talk firsthand and feel their emotions. It was very inspiring.”
Perez’s family continues to drive his success. He says things are looking up for him and his mom, who brought him to the U.S. as a child.
“I want to experience a vacation. I want to be able to go out and not worry about spending $30 on something for leisure. I want to help my family in Mexico. Thanks to the opportunities afforded to me at Polk State, I am one step closer to my goals.”
“She has struggled a lot. She couldn’t work for an American company without documentation, so she started her own business – a taco stand where she worked for years without ever missing a day of work,” he shared. “With her residency, she was able to sell her company and will be able to get a job and not overwork.”
He dreams of a future where his family is afforded time to relax and enjoy the little things in life.
With Polk State’s Associate in Arts graduates enjoying the highest employment and continuing education rate in the state at 92%, Perez is on a path to earning higher degrees and a rewarding career.
“I want to experience a vacation. I want to be able to go out and not worry about spending $30 on something for leisure. I want to help my family in Mexico,” Perez said. “Thanks to the opportunities afforded to me at Polk State, I am one step closer to my goals.”