Perez to grads: ‘You can do and become anything’

Texas State Rep. Mary Ann Perez had three key pieces of advice for the more than 300 students who received associate’s degrees and certificates Saturday at Lee College commencement: Believe in yourself, don’t be afraid to fail, and never forget to give back to the community that gave so much to you.

Delivering the keynote address at the 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. commencement exercises in the packed-to-capacity college Sports Arena, Perez — who recently completed her first term representing House District 144 in the state Legislature — shared with graduates memories from her own winding journey to success.

Raised by her grandparents in a traditional Hispanic household where she was expected to aspire to life as a housewife and mother, Perez said she married and started a family right after graduating from Milby High School. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she decided to enroll at Houston Community College, earning an associate’s degree 8 years later. A bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Houston-Downtown followed, when she was 41.

It doesn’t matter what kind of economic or family background you come from, Perez told the graduates; what matters most is what you decide to make out of yourself.

“You can do and become anything you want,” she said. “You are not defined by what other people think of you. The opportunities are there, but no one is going to bring them to you. If you want it, go get it. It’s your life, and you have to take ownership and responsibility for your own destiny.”

Seated among the proud and joyful Lee College graduates were dozens of seniors from the first graduating class of IMPACT Early College High School, who earned associate’s degrees while also completing requirements for their high-school diplomas. Operated by the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District, IMPACT is currently located in the college’s Advanced Technology Center.

“Our students are graduating from college and realizing their dreams. It’s a historic day, and we are very proud of them,” said Dr. Salvador Cavazos, superintendent of the Goose Creek school district. “There’s a time to celebrate in life, and this is that day for these students.”

Lee College Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown echoed that sentiment, telling graduates to take time amidst their revelry to thank the instructors, family and friends whose guidance and support helped ensure they would complete their academic programs and accomplish their goals.

At the end of the ceremony, Brown joined faculty, members of the Board of Regents and others to form a human tunnel of congratulations and applause through which the graduates recessed to exit the arena. The “Walk of Honor” is a beloved Lee College commencement tradition.

“Some of you are moving on to a university for a baccalaureate degree, and others are preparing to enter the workforce,” he said. “Keep this in mind: Today is the beginning of a journey that will lead you down a pathway to many, many more successes in your lives. We know you’re going to make us proud.”

Info session May 13 for EnergyVenture Camp

The Center for Workforce and Community Development at Lee College will host an information session Tuesday, May 13, for parents and guardians interested in signing up their middle-schoolers for the dynamic, week-long EnergyVenture Camp being offered this summer.

The information session will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Phyllis Davis Room at 909 Decker Drive. Those who attend will learn more about how to register their children aged 12-16 years for one of the spots at EnergyVenture Camp, which fill quickly, and receive information about the availability of full scholarships. Sponsored by Shell and ExxonMobil, the camps will be held June 16-20 and June 23-27.

EnergyVenture Camp students discover the countless ways in which the petrochemical and refining industries touch their lives every day. Campers perform lab experiments, win prizes, take a tour of an energy-related facility and hear firsthand from guest speakers who work in the field. Students are also invited to return to campus during the spring semester for an annual reunion, where they can catch up with old friends and get re-engaged with the college and the industry.

For more details about the information session and EnergyVenture Camp, contact the Center for Workforce and Community Development at 281.425.6311 or

First IMPACT Early College High School class to graduate

When IMPACT Early College High School opened its doors on the Lee College campus, no one was sure exactly what to expect — not even the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District (GCCISD) eighth-graders who applied for admission, intrigued by the opportunity to earn a high-school diploma and two years of college credit simultaneously.

Four years later, those first students are now IMPACT seniors preparing for graduation. In addition to their diplomas, about half of the 89 members of the class of 2014 will also receive associate’s degrees Saturday, May 10, at Lee College commencement in the Sports Arena.

“This is our home. We built this. We were the pioneers,” said Azalia Sprecher, a senior who has earned three associate’s degrees from Lee College while attending IMPACT, which is operated by the GCCISD and currently located in the college Advanced Technology Center. “We hope that we’ve done enough to pass the baton to the underclassmen.”

IMPACT principal Jacquelyn Narro certainly thinks so, noting the seniors are largely self-motivated and dedicated students who have proven their ability to accomplish lofty goals. Reaching this milestone with the first graduating class speaks to the student-centered commitment shared by Goose Creek and Lee College, she said.

“They leave having had a true college experience, so that the university setting will not be a novelty to them,” Narro said. “They are also now more workforce-ready and eligible for higher-paying jobs than the average high-school graduate. It changes their earning potential and all the possibilities for their future.”

Moving forward, Narro plans to continue building enrollment at IMPACT and sharpen the focus on first-generation college students who might not otherwise have the means or opportunity to pursue a degree. Lee College waives the students’ tuition and GCCISD provides their textbooks.

The daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college student herself, Sprecher will study biochemistry at Bryn Mawr College on a full-tuition scholarship from the Posse Foundation, one of the most renowned college access and youth leadership development programs in the country.

Though excited to begin her next chapter in Pennsylvania, Sprecher said it won’t be easy to leave behind the teachers and administrators who pushed her to discover her talents — or the IMPACT classmates who became more like brothers and sisters as they encouraged each other through the rigors of balancing both high school and collegiate coursework.

“A friend in one of my college courses is a single mother, and she tells her 10-year-old son that she wants him to be a great student like me,” Sprecher said. “That really makes me feel good. IMPACT was the ultimate challenge and I wanted to go after it. These past four years have been really rewarding and all the hard work has been worth it.”