The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 27, 2013

UPJ grads urged to give back to community

Randy Griffith

JOHNSTOWN — New college graduates were urged to look beyond their careers and financial goals during University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown commencement ceremonies Saturday afternoon.

“You want these four years to pay off,” keynote speaker Rosie Perez said. “But if you only concentrate on the money aspect, you will come up empty-handed.”

Perez urged about 500 graduates to strive to give back to their communities and to offer support for others.

“I would not be here if it were not for many civic-minded individuals,” the Academy Award-nominated actress, choreographer and director told graduates and supporters filling the stands at Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center.

Recalling her youth in the Bronx neighborhoods of New York, Perez recounted how different organizations gave the girl of Puerto Rican descent encouragement to overcome prejudice and achieve her goals.

Perez, 46, made her acting debut in the 1989 film “Do the Right Thing” after the movie’s director, Spike Lee, insisted that the drama she had inside her demanded that she enter show business, Perez said.

She went on to earn acclaim as choreographer for the show “In Living Color” and made her directorial debut with a documentary celebrating Puerto Rican pride. Throughout her career, Perez has been a vocal activist for a number of causes, especially those related to AIDS and inner-city youth.

“I always say what separates an underprivileged child from a privileged child is opportunity,” she said, encouraging Pitt’s graduates to use their education and experience to provide opportunities.

“You must expect so much of from the world, because the world is going to expect so much from you,” she said. “Get past your fears and step into your greatness.”

Even while the new graduates and their families were celebrating the end of one chapter in their lives, the staff at Pitt-Johnstown’s Office of Real World Career Services was gearing up for its annual 100 Days, 100 percent initiative, career counselor Judi McGuirk said at the program’s check-in table in the Sports Center.

“For the first 100 days after graduation, 100 percent of our effort is geared toward our seniors,” McGuirk said.

The office strives to maintain contact with graduates for career counseling, resume development, mock interviews and help with graduate-school admission.

“We network with employers throughout the year,” McGuirk said.

“We help our students connect with employers. We have a job database that is integrated with the the employers.”

But the “real world” office help is not limited to new graduates.

“We work with the students from their freshman year through graduation to help them be the most employable they can be when they graduate,” McGuirk said.

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