CHICAGO, IL (May 2, 2016) — Carmen Velazquez-Alvarez, whose family fled the violence of her native Veracruz, Mexico, and escaped to the United States when she was 11 years old, was presented with North Park University’s 2016 Distinguished Senior Award in a recent ceremony.
Also winning the award was Blake Thomas, whose family attends Prairie Village Covenant Church in Olathe, Kansas. The award is bestowed each year to one woman and one man from the graduating class to recognize extraordinary leadership, dedicated service, superior academic performance, and embodiment of the university’s mission of preparing students for lives of significance and service.
Velazquez-Alvarez was homeless for several months after arriving in the U.S. Her family had little food and no access to medical care before eventually making their way to California’s Central Valley, where they worked together in the fields. They attended Kerman Covenant Church, where Velazquez-Alvarez began to dream of attending North Park.
“Carmen’s story is the story of the impossible becoming possible,” said Liza Ann Acosta, professor of English. “She is leading the way for other undocumented students to dream big and work toward fulfilling their goals. Carmen has made her North Park experience one to remember.”
Velazquez-Alvarez is a conflict transformation studies major and also will receive a nonprofit management certificate. She served as the president of North Park’s Latin American Student Organization and was cofounder of the Latinas Unidas Mentorship Program, established to prepare her fellow Latina students for success. She was also active as a Faith and Justice Team student leader, and completed an internship this semester with the YMCA’s diversity and inclusion department.
“Carmen is a dynamo, an organizer, and at the forefront of Latino and immigrant justice issues,” said Linda Craft, professor of Spanish. In addition to her service work, Velazquez-Alvarez was honored this year as one of the top academic students in the state, receiving the Student Laureate Award and an educational grant from the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. She earned a 3.98 grade point average at North Park.
Blake Thomas is a youth ministry and biblical and theological studies double major. He attended North Park out of a desire to merge his gifts in ministry and music, as well as a commitment to serving the city of Chicago, said music department recruiter Rebecca Ryan. “He is an outstanding student and a stellar human being.”
Daniel White Hodge, director of the Center for Youth Ministry Studies, agreed. “Blake has been an outstanding student with exemplary leadership skills,” he said.
“Being a part of the Chamber Singers and the University Choir has been the most rewarding experience for me at North Park,” Thomas said. “From singing Handel’s Messiah with 400 people to going on choir tours around the country, I’ve loved my time being under the direction of Dr. Julia Davids and singing with my peers.”
He will begin serving as youth pastor at North Park Covenant Church this summer.
The ceremony was held April 25.