The Real Trojan Family
Six children who graduated from USC, Parents Honored
By Katherine Yungmee Kim
On August 4, the Mexican American Alumni Association hosted the Perez Family Recognition Luncheon, a heartfelt affair where both Perez family members and USC leaders offered each other their sincere gratitude and respect.
Six of the eleven Perez children graduated from USC; another is doing her doctorate here. Five of the siblings were members of the marching band.
Joseph Aoun, dean of the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences told the family they were “role models” for their communal success and their collective achievement. He asked for their help in communicating the needs of Latino students to the administration and faculty.
“We are grateful and humbled by what you have done,” Aoun said.
Two Perez women were USC College graduates. The youngest, Maria Elena (her mother’s namesake), earned her degree last May in American Studies, focusing on Chicano and Latino Studies. Her sister Dinah received her bachelors degree in Spanish Languages and Literature in 2002.
Agar Perez—the eldest child—was the first to matriculate into USC in 1986. Her high school counselor told her that USC was “a rich kid’s school” and that she should just apply to junior college. Instead, Agar requested another counselor.
Her dream was realized when she received her acceptance letter from USC, but tuition proved to be yet another challenge.
“We didn’t know about financial aid,” said their father, Samuel, Sr. “When I got the bill, it was more than I had in the bank.”
But Samuel Sr. promised Agar that she would have her dream. He borrowed money from friends and family to pay for her first semester.
Each Perez child profusely thanked their parents for their encouragement and sacrifice. Esau Perez, who graduated in 2000 with a B.A. in communications, said their mother, Maria Elena, volunteered at their local elementary school for 20 years, and Samuel, Sr. worked “on his hands and knees” often at three jobs to support his children’s education.
“My father always said, ‘If the door is closed, you better knock. If you don’t knock, then ask,’” explains Samuel, Jr., who graduated from USC with bachelors and masters degrees in mechanical engineering.
“It was always important to make that attempt,” he says.
And the message is being passed on. Samuel, Jr. teaches math and music at a local high school, and four of his other siblings are involved in education. It is part of what they see as “giving back.”
Not one of them takes their education for granted.
Deborah, who has a bachelors degree in architecture and a masters degree in education from USC, says, “For every Latino here, there are hundreds who will never step foot on this campus.”
In 1967, eight days after they were married, Maria Elena came to America with her husband. Back then, they would go to soccer games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and then for nighttime walks around the USC campus.
Maria Elena recalls her husband asking her, “Wouldn’t you like our kids to go here someday?”
At the time, she says she wondered what he was thinking.
Today, Samuel Sr. says he knows the campus by heart. He is recognized at games and graduations, by faculty and administration, by even President Sample himself. “A piece of me is on this campus,” he says, explaining why he wants to take a brick from one of the USC buildings. “So I need a piece of it.”
Related News Items
- In Memoriam: Thomas Ely Lasswell, Sr., 90 September 8, 2010
- Pomp and Unusual Circumstance May 15, 2009
- Yes They Did May 14, 2009
- Four to Receive Honorary Degrees May 1, 2008
- Tales from Commencement May 1, 2008
- 10,000 Degrees to be Awarded May 1, 2008
- Conference Reviews Latino Press October 14, 2005
- College Chicano Studies and Psychohistory Pioneer Dies September 1, 2004