Dr. Sylvester Perez Commencement Speaker
Las Vegas, N.M – New Mexico Highlands University distinguished alumnus Sylvester Perez, a San Antonio superintendent, will be the university’s commencement speaker May 10.
Perez’ exceptional career as an educator and administrator has spanned 40 years. He is the superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District of more than 54,000 students in 91 schools.
Perez is also an adjunct professor with the Cooperative Superintendent Program at University of Texas – Austin. Previously, he taught at Texas A & M University – Kingsville and University of Texas – Permian Basin.
Perez completed his B.A. in 1972 at Highlands, studying health, physical education, and history. In 1978, his completed his M.A. at Highlands in health and physical education.
He went on to earn his doctorate in educational administration in 1995 from Texas A & M University – College Station.
Perez was named a Highlands distinguished alumnus in 2013.
“I’m very honored and it’s humbling to be speaking at commencement at Highlands,” Perez said. “It’s also rather surreal because I was not college ready when I came to campus and graduating was a lofty goal. Times were different in the ’60s, with more barriers.
“I had a very rich academic experience at Highlands, where the faculty had high expectations for us and took pride in challenging us. The older I get, the more I appreciate my experiences at Highlands. I will always be indebted to the university for my life-changing education,” Perez said.
His stellar time on the Cowboy baseball team also shaped him. Perez played from 1969 – 1971, earning All-American honors. In 1971, he batted .401 and set a school record of 13 home runs that stood for 29 years. He was inducted into the Highlands Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006.
In his speech, Perez said he plans to talk about some of the essential qualities needed to be successful, like attitude, teamwork and perseverance – things that can’t be learned in the classroom, but are necessary for navigating life.
Over the years, the San Antonio native has served legions of Texas school children, including 14 years as superintendent in the Mathis, Clint, San Marcos, Midland, and San Antonio school districts.
“I’m most proud of increasing the college-bound rate in every district where I’ve served as superintendent,” Perez said. “For example, in Midland the rate rose from 43 percent to 67 percent. It’s also satisfying to have decreased the dropout rates in all my districts.”
Perez is a lifelong leader in developing programs to help eliminate educational barriers for underserved students. In 2004, he developed one of the first College Connection programs in the country to increase college entrance and access.
“As a superintendent, it’s rewarding to provide programs that are inclusive, supportive and provide opportunities for students that have traditionally been ignored in subtle ways or simply not encouraged to attend post-secondary schools,” said Perez, who remembers being steered toward a vocational track rather than college.
During his career, Perez was also a principal, assistant principal, and athletic director.
Perez said his Highlands education gave him the skills he needed to be an effective classroom history teacher for 13 years. He also coached baseball, including two future Major League players who won World Series Championships.
Over the years, Perez has served in numerous professional leadership positions, including being the first Hispanic elected to the University Interscholastic League’s Legislative Council in Texas.
Perez is proud of his heritage as a Tejano whose family roots run deep in central and south Texas, dating to the early 1800s.
“I’ve never forgotten where I came from, whether it was the south side of San Antonio or Highlands University. I’m proud to say that HU has a long history of welcoming diversity, and that the university helped shape who I am today,” Perez said.
Perez has three adult sons – Michael, Marc, and Steven – and five grandsons. He is married to Donna Divin-Perez.
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