“When I was at CUNY Start, I did a research project about becoming a teacher,” says Daniel Quiroz.
“I told the other students, we’re not going to get rich overnight, but we will have a life that will be satisfying to us.”
The long road to the life Quiroz envisioned started when he left his home just outside Mexico City.
“I was 19 when I came to New York,” he says. “It was money issues that made me come here, like with many other immigrants, but also I asked myself, ‘What does El Norte look like?’ I wanted to be independent, but I didn’t even know what that looked like.”
The first thing he did, "was to find a language school, to learn English," he says. "Once I paid that off, I started looking for a GED school.”
That was when he found the BMCC Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, where he attended classes in order to earn his GED, or high school equivalency diploma.
This fall he will enter BMCC as a liberal arts major, and after completing his associate degree, “I’d like to go into the area of ethnic and cultural studies,” he says.
“I plan on transferring to Hunter College if possible. The CUNY Start program helped us think about how to enroll, how to transfer and do those things.”
Eventually, he says, he wants to be a teacher, and “investigate events in history. I’m interested in aspects of how people interact and why there is inequality in society. We have to learn from our beginnings.”
A huge help
Along the way in this long process, Daniel Queroz was nominated by Charlie Brover, one of his instructors in the GED program at BMCC, to receive the Laurel Award offered as part of the CUNY-wide Peter Jennings Scholarship program.
“Daniel was a class leader,” Brover writes, in his nomination letter.
“In small-group problem solving sessions or in writing groups, he was … always ready to listen attentively to classmates and assist them … His excellent final class project exploring the data at the core of the ‘stop and frisk’ controversy in New York City combined his newly acquired mathematical skills with his highly developed social conscience.”
The Laurel Award scholarship program was founded by Peter Jennings, Anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight who died in 2005 and having earned a GED himself, was a champion of adult education.
Quiroz is quick to thank the instructors and staff who guided him to this point in his academic career; not only Charlie Brover, but Jane Tarica and Lester Lambert of the BMCC continuing education program.
“The professors want us—each one of us—to become a better person,” he says. “They already did the hard work themselves, and they want us to do our best in life, too. That’s pure passion and professionalism. That’s a huge help for us.”
He also credits continuing education staff person Nicole Monte, who helped him complete his application to enter BMCC as a matriculating student, and CUNY Start math instructor Mustafa Kahn, who helped him improve his understanding of algebra.
The day the good news arrived
Daniel Quiroz was home the day a letter came from Albany, announcing he had passed the GED.
“I remember putting the key in the mailbox and standing there to open the letter,” he says.
“The first thing I did, I called my girlfriend. I was so happy. She said, ‘Nobody can take that education away from you’. My mom was very happy, too.”
He laughs about being an “older student,” at age 27.
“I never thought I was going to go to college,” he says. “It was only when I got into the GED program at BMCC, and the professors told us ‘You should go to college’, that I started to think it could happen.”
The Laurel Award ceremony
The 12th Annual Peter Jennings Scholarship Laurel Award Ceremony, coordinated by the CUNY Office of Academic Affairs, took place at the CUNY Graduate Center in June.
The keynote address was delivered by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Kayce Freed Jennings spoke on behalf of the Peter Jennings Foundation, which funded this year's program along with the Abernathy MacGregor Group.
Each of the 11 Laurel Award winners—from GED programs throughout CUNY—took the stage to receive their award.
“I was nervous, anxious,” says Quiroz, “but I kept smiling. I felt there was a big joy inside me. I was proud of myself. All of the time I went without sleeping, all the hard work paid off. I felt very good.”
Unfortunately, the family members he lives with in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn were unable to attend the award ceremony held in the Graduate Center’s wood-paneled Martin E. Segal Theatre.
“They all work,” he says. “Everyone in my family works—as a housekeeper, in construction, and one is a cook in an Italian restaurant.”
Quiroz himself works in a bakery on the Upper East Side. He has worked and attended school full time since arriving at BMCC, and will continue to do so in the fall.
“The best thing about working in a bakery is the free croissants,” he says, showing the optimism behind his perseverance. “The baking process is like any other skill. You have to practice in order to learn.”