Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Debbie Perez is thankful that the city’s “intense diversity” has allowed her to grow up without feeling challenged ethnically or culturally, despite her Cuban roots. Her challenges have stemmed, instead, from her family’s ongoing financial hardships, which at times presented her with difficult choices. “I have always had to juggle my academic responsibilities with my financial responsibilities.” she explains.
Yet she also indicates that the adversity the family experienced—especially the way her parents had to struggle to provide for her and her brother—helped shape her can-do attitude. And despite the hurdles her parents had to overcome, they have been steadfast in supporting her academic goals. “I can definitely say without a doubt,” she concludes, “that what has motivated me to pursue a higher education has been my parents.”
She recently graduated from the School for Advanced Studies, Wolfson Campus, a dual-enrollment high school whose students complete their last two years while attending Miami-Dade College. She will start Harvard University in the fall, where she plans to major in the History of Art and Architecture with a focus on Baroque/Rococo Studies.
Believing that knowledge and determination are the pathway to success, and having strived for academic excellence in order to reach her own goals, she hopes to inspire others that it is possible to achieve their dreams. As the founder and president of the Miami Lakes Middle School Alumni Association, she is already on her way. In addition to running the organization, she has frequently visited her former middle school, teaching students the basics of government, civics, and history, and also helping them to develop a positive understanding and portrayal of themselves in society, through the development of their speech and writing.
Debbie’s other extracurriculars include being a voting, representative member of the District 13 Miami-Dade County Youth Commission, a county-level governmental organization that seeks to empower youth by granting them a voice in their local communities and enabling them to bring about change in both urban and suburban areas of Miami. In addition, through her school’s National Honor Society chapter, she has participated in multiple walks organized by nonprofits to raise funds and build community awareness, such as the End to Alzheimer's Walk and Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Walk. She was on the principal’s honor roll throughout high school and has received multiple awards for leadership, citizenship, and academic excellence.
In June 2019, Debbie was one of 200 students selected to attend the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s 2019 Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) at The University of Chicago. YLI is a four-day, overnight program that gives outstanding Latino rising high school seniors the practical tools they need to set a course for success in college and career. A recipient of The Gates Scholarship, which is administered by HSF, she likens HSF’s network to a family that offers understanding and support. She also sees her values reflected in HSF. “The Hispanic Scholarship Fund embodies all academic and character qualities that I preach and admire in individuals around me every day,” she said.
As for the future, she says, “Educational law and policy is my absolute dream.” After Harvard, she hopes to assist the Florida Department of Education to establish the “best possible learning environment” for the children in Florida’s extensive educational system