Spring Graduate’s First Visit to Campus
Nelson Perez Jr. is a bit of a non-traditional college student. Although he has spent the past five years working toward a degree in general studies, Perez has never talked to any of his professors in person and says he probably has contacted an instructor with a question 10 times over that period. In fact, when Perez walks across the stage at Mizzou Arena May 12, it will be his first visit to the Columbia campus.
Because his classes were all distance learning, he always felt he was missing out. “I figured I’d check out everything. I’ve heard campus is beautiful, and I definitely want to take a picture in front of the columns.”
Perez was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Tampa, Florida, when he was young. About 12 years ago, he moved to St. Louis, where he worked 40 hours a week as a case manager for low-income families for the Guardian Angel Settlement Association. On the weekends, Perez worked at a coffee shop. It was during this time that he decided to earn his bachelor’s degree so he could pursue a master of social work (MSW) degree.
“I talked to Chris Marshall, who is my academic adviser, and I told her what I wanted to do. She had me sign up for the classes that are prerequisites for going into the MSW program,” Perez says. “I was able to get all of those classes, and I was able to do it at my own pace. To tell the truth, that self-paced program saved my life because I’m a natural-born procrastinator and the stress level can get a little high.”
About halfway through his online degree program, Perez took on a third job, which has since become his primary occupation: traveling to art festivals across the country exhibiting his acrylic paintings. Painting under the pseudonym Vodka Bacon Studios, Perez already has done four festivals in Florida this year, one in Memphis, another in Colorado Springs, and one last weekend in Atlanta. He has another one next weekend in Springfield, Missouri, and then he’ll travel to Columbia for commencement before heading to Indianapolis for yet another festival.
A Damn Good Night by Vodka Bacon Studios
“I can definitely say it pays better than social work,” he joked. When Perez does attend his graduation ceremony, he will do so as an honorary marshal.
“One of the main reasons I’m walking at commencement is that my dad wants to make sure he sees my graduation, so that’s the main reason I’m driving over there. My father, my mother, and my sister are all coming in from Tampa. It’s kind of funny because I finished last December but I didn’t walk in that ceremony because my family said, ‘We can’t go up there—it’s too cold!’”
Since he didn’t personally interact with his professors, Perez says he often read or wrote his assignments twice to ensure he had a good grasp of the material.
“Because you are not listening to lectures unless they record one, you really have to dig to see what angle the teacher is coming from,” he says. “I feel like I’ve benefitted a lot more by being able to retain the information and learn the subjects due to the fact there wasn’t someone there holding my hand the whole time.”
Perez says he’s going to look into the MSW program at Mizzou because his college experience here has been positive—even though he’s never stepped foot on campus, yet.