JAHDIEL N. PEREZ
Minister in Training and Activist
Heritage: Guatemalan and Puerto Rican
Harvard Divinity School Dean's Fellowship, 2014-2017
William and Lucille Nickerson Merit Scholarship, 2014-2016
The Martin Andic Prize for Distinction in Philosophy, 2014
Undergraduate Academic Recognition Merit Scholarship, 2013
By: Frank Morris
Jahdiel Perez never liked school. The 25-year-old admits to barely graduating high school. Rather than focus on his studies, he had his sight set on joining the Marine Corps. It was his dream since age 3. “I just wanted to go to Iraq and be in this war.”
His father, Sergio, had different goals in mind for his son: either be in academia or serve as a leader at Harvest Ministries, the church Sergio founded. But Perez’s ship date was set: Aug. 22, 2009. Then six weeks before he was to take off, Perez tore his lung while raking leaves. “I describe it as God playing some sort of joke on me,” Perez said. He was disqualified from ever entering the Marines.
Threatened by his dad to go to college or be kicked out of the house, Perez enroll in Cape Cod Community College. “That also didn’t go very well,” he said. But for the first time, “I felt God working in my heart.”
Perez’s father then sent him to Guadalajara, Mexico for a semester to live with his uncle and brush up on his Spanish. The experience, Perez said, was “very sobering.”
One day, he picked up a book from his uncle’s library. It was C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
“That was the epiphany moment … I called my dad and I was sobbing. I apologized. I told him I wanted to go to the best schools.”
With his poor grades, some of the best schools were out of the question for Perez. He applied to University of Massachusetts Boston, but was initially denied entry. He was eventually admitted on a probationary basis.
From that day on, “I was just totally a transformed person,” Perez said.
He earned all A’s, was the recipient of the Undergraduate Academic Recognition Merit Scholarship, and graduated at the top of his class. Two weeks after receiving his bachelor’s, he began working on his master’s through Harvard Divinity School at Harvard University, where he’s received the Martin Andic Prize for Distinction in Philosophy, the William and Lucille Nickerson Merit Scholarship, the Harvard Divinity School Dean's Fellowship, and was a John F. Kennedy Award nominee.
Since Perez’s troubled school days, he has served his community as a preacher, Sunday school teacher, translator and youth counselor. Last summer, he co-preached a sermon series with his father on strengthening Latino families, which is now being edited into a book.
And with a year left in his master’s program, Perez has hopes of one day becoming a pastor and professor with the goal of attaining a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from Oxford University — the same school C.S. Lewis went to and taught at.
“I would tell young Latinos that there are generations of parents and grandparents who have worked very hard to give them opportunities that they didn’t have. The least we can do is honor their efforts, strive for excellence in anything we do, and make them proud.”