When his family moved to the United States from Mexico, Jesus Perez-Orozco started second grade at a Denver elementary school not knowing any English.
“The first few months were very tough,” he says. “Even asking to go to the bathroom was scary. I don’t know how I passed second grade, to be honest. I just did the best I could.”
Now Perez-Orozco is graduating with a degree in construction management from Colorado State University, and he credits his family with giving him that opportunity.
Soon after he was born in Michoacán, Mexico, his father was granted permanent U.S. residency, and the family relocated to Long Beach, California. But when his uncle got robbed and beaten outside the apartment complex where they lived, Perez-Orozco’s parents moved the family back to Mexico because it felt safer. After a few years, his parents decided to return to the U.S. because they wanted Jesus to learn English like his older sisters had done in California.
“They wanted me to have more opportunities and give me the best tools they could to succeed,” Perez-Orozco says.
They chose Denver because they had relatives there. Perez-Orozco survived second grade, learned English and attended Denver East High School. He was dead set on attending the University of Colorado because he had friends going there. Then his college advisor convinced him to join a tour of CSU at the last minute.
“It was beautiful,” Perez-Orozco recalls of that visit. “I had this gut feeling that I had to come here after walking around campus. I’m very glad I did.”
He joined the Key Academic Community and chose construction management because growing up, he often spent summers in Mexico helping his father with construction projects.
“They would give me a small shovel to use, and I would help mix the cement,” Perez-Orozco says.
In addition to Key and two internships, he’s been involved in Habitat for Humanity and the student chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.
“It’s been so fun to see Jesus mature and flourish here at CSU,” says one of his faculty mentors, CM Senior Instructor Anna Fontana. “He has come so far since our freshman Key class, where he and the others were just trying to find their place. Jesus has one of those smiles that brightens your day, and while I will miss seeing that smile in the halls of Guggenheim, I look forward to seeing what amazing things he will do in the future.”
After graduating, Perez-Orozco will return to California to take a job with PCI. His family watched the livestream as he took the ceremonial graduation walk on the Oval Nov. 17.
“They were so proud of me,” he says. “Thank you to my parents for giving me this opportunity and sacrificing all they knew to come to the U.S. for me. They went out of their way to make sure I had a bright future.”