Utica Man Overcomes Adversity, Wins “Outstanding Adult Award” [AUDIO]
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Utica, NY (WIBX) - In a city where there never seems to be a shortage of bad news, comes an old-fashioned success story.
At Utica's BOCES Consortium of Continuing Education (BCCE) site on Second Street, one student, Jean Carlos Sevilla, has not only improved his own situation, but also that of the community he calls home.
He studied at Utica's BCCE from April 2010 until April 2011, in preparation for his GED exam. Recently, Sevilla was awarded the New York Association for Continuing/Community Education's "Outstanding Adult Award Recipient" for 2012.
A native of Puerto Rico, Sevilla, now 22, was raised in the barrio, neighborhoods that, according to his GED instructor, John Andereck, were rife with danger.
"The barrios [sic] is not a good place to be," Andereck said. "Jean Carlos has shared with me that as a young child, I'm going to say about 4 or 5, he witnessed a public shooting right in the barrio."
As a teenager, Sevilla left Puerto Rico with his mother for Florida, where he played semiprofessional football, but had various run-ins with the law.
"He conducted gang activities, including graffiti on public trains," Andereck said. "And, it so happens that one of Jean Carlos' favorite characters was Spongebob. So, there are, or were, a significant number of trains in Florida that have Spongebob characters on them."
He then made his way north, to New York City, then Utica.
That's where the success story begins.
"He became near and dear to my heart real quick in the game," Andereck said. "Very rambunctious, very nervous type of person... would run around, you could never corral him for any length of time, because he was so excitable. And I think that's a fair word, excitable."
Sevilla was one of the estimated 15-hundred students the Utica BOCES site sees each year. Among those students, about 300 will sit for the GED exam. 95 percent will pass.
Although the father of two had a steep uphill battle, Sevilla sat and took the GED's, passing them and receiving his honors.
Joelle Taylor, Senior Coordinator of Literacy Programs for the site, remembers the day Jean Carlos Sevilla heard the news. She was the one that told him.
"I said, 'You passed the GED,'" Taylor said. "And he looked at me, and he literally bent over with his hands on his knees and went right down. He came back up and the tears were pouring down his face. And so, guess what? So were mine at that point. His significant other handed him the phone and told him to call his mother. It was like he won the lottery."
For many students who earn their GED, the feeling is euphoric. Previously closed doors open, providing graduates with job and education opportunities, or for some, like the 82 year-old woman who completed the program, a sense of accomplishment.
But, for Sevilla, the success hasn't stopped there. He went on to apply for, and get, a full-time position at Wal-Mart, serve as a committee member for the Oneida County Democratic Party in Utica and be selected as a speaker for the Literacy Coalition of Oneida County.
Adult Education instructor, Denise Gregory, remembers helping him prepare for his job interview with the retailer.
"He's 22 years old, he obviously doesn't have suits, he doesn't have the kind of clothes for an interview," Gregory said. "Joelle and everyone put together a piece here and a piece there and sent this young man off to an interview... off he went with his little sport jacket, and he was just thrilled with when he had gone through all the interviews and got the job."
Sevilla has plans to continue his success by taking business management classes at the Utica School of Commerce.
But, for now, Andereck just wants to focus on the upcoming award celebration in Albany, where Sevilla will be honored for his hard work.
"For me, that will be the culmination to this whole journey that we've been on," Andereck said." It's not the culmination though, because I know his future is nothing but bright, so there will be more to follow."
The American Dream has found a home in Utica.