Bouncing throughout the boroughs of New York, New York, while growing up, Buffalo State graduate Jeremiah Perez-Torres, '17, didn’t think he would live past age 18.
After years spent in the foster care system, Perez-Torres was on his own by age 16. He experienced bouts of homelessness and barely graduated from high school.
“I was hanging out with the wrong crowd,” he said. “I attended four different high schools before finally graduating a semester late.”
Flash forward three and a half years. On May 13, 2017, Perez-Torres not only received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but also the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for his outstanding performance and contributions to Buffalo State. In the fall, he’ll begin a doctoral program with the goal of working in homeland security and counterterrorism.
“Eventually, I would like to teach at the college level, maybe even at Buffalo State,” he said. “I’d like to show future students that I graduated from here, despite all the challenges.”
Challenges are an understatement. Perez-Torres’s mother died when he was only 2 years old, and he was later placed in foster care. He had few positive role models or experiences growing up.
What Perez-Torres did have was a high school counselor who noticed his innate intelligence and encouraged him to go to college. He also had a driving passion for criminal justice. He started studying that subject at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
“As soon as I knew I could transfer to Buffalo State, I did,” he said. “I knew it has a strong criminal justice program, and I needed to do bigger and better things with my life.”
Despite poor grades in high school, Perez-Torres was determined to get accepted into Buffalo State’s Muriel A. Howard Honors Program, which is usually reserved for students who excelled academically in high school. Perez-Torres contacted Andrea Guiati, the honors program director, prior to transferring and began making his case.
“Jeremiah called me at least 10 times between July and August of 2015,” Guiati said. “I had seen in his high school records that he was not a stellar high schooler. However, his determination and perseverance, his relentless calls told me that he was hungry for knowledge, and he was determined to change his life. I felt that this young man deserved a second chance.”
Guiati wasn’t wrong in his assessment. Perez-Torres maintained a 3.8 grade point average and accumulated more than $25,000 in grants, research awards, and scholarships, before graduating with one of the most prestigious awards available to students within the SUNY system.
As soon as he arrived at Buffalo State, he dove in academically and got involved on campus. He added an intelligence analysis minor and was accepted into the McNair Scholars Program, which prepares low-income, first-generation students for doctoral studies through research opportunities and other scholarly activities. With his mentor James Sobol, chair and associate professor of criminal justice, Perez-Torres undertook a research project focusing on the perceived legitimacy of police and its effect on crime reporting.
Outside of class, Perez-Torres served in leadership roles with the Criminal Justice Club and the National Criminal Justice Honor Society. He also landed a job with University Police. Starting as a student assistant, he moved through the ranks to become one of two coordinators for the entire program. And he served on the campus’s Community Policing Advisory Board.
“I was really excited that I could connect campus opportunities with my career goals,” he said. “I increased my leadership skills and built up a strong resume that led to interviews I’ve had with the FBI and other federal organizations. My resume, along with my research experience, has helped me with my graduate school applications, too.”
When it came time to apply to graduate schools, several faculty members, including Guiati, wrote letters of recommendation for Perez-Torres, recognizing his strengths and skills.
“I really treasure Buffalo State because these amazing things have happened to me here,” he said. “No matter where I go in life, I know I am prepared. Because I have been taught well and given many opportunities, I’m ready for the world.”
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