From Perseverance to Presidency
Student Senate President Juan Carlos Flores ’11 achieves multiple firsts
by Michelle Simmons
October 27, 2010
Juan Carlos Flores ’11 (front, center) is Dickinson’s first Posse Scholar to be elected Student Senate president. He also is the college’s first Hispanic-American and Muslim student to hold the office.
When Juan Carlos Flores ’11 was 14, the Los Angeles school system already had written him off. Faced with a sudden illness that took months of recovery, Flores was a year behind his peers when he entered the 10th grade. He was on his way to being labeled a dropout, he says.
His family couldn’t afford private tutoring to help him catch up. But through a combination of perseverance and night classes at Mission Community College, Flores not only caught up with his peers but rallied to the top.
By his second semester, he was enrolled in James Monroe High School’s magnet program for law and government, and he continued taking other classes through the summer at Los Angeles Valley College.
“It probably wasn’t the brightest idea, but I took an entire year of math over the summer,” he says. “I thought that it would be good for college. It was a great experience in teaching me that you can’t be strong in every subject.”
Flores graduated with honors and is the first in his family to attend college. It turns out he’s quite strong in multiple subjects, double majoring in law & policy and political science with a minor in Italian.
He also is Dickinson’s first Posse Scholar, Hispanic-American and Muslim student to be elected Student Senate president.
Flores notes that his election comes at the same time that Dickinson celebrates the 10th anniversary of its partnership with the Posse Foundation. The foundation identifies high-achieving students from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C., and works with partner colleges and universities to ensure that they reach their full academic potential.
Dickinson began its relationship with the Posse Foundation in 2001, with its first cohort of students arriving from New York City. In 2005, it became the first college on the East Coast to partner with the Los Angeles Posse program.
Flores is a member of LA Posse III, the third cohort from Los Angeles. In addition to his own Posse members, he points to class of 2009’s Valeria Carranza, Llamilet Gutierrez and Krizzha Reyes of LA Posse I, who graduated from the same magnet program, as mentors during his first year.
“When I got on campus, they were good people to talk to because we had gone to the same high school and could share experiences,” he says. “It was more difficult then because there were so few of us. Now there are a lot more students from Los Angeles and California, and not just Posse [Scholars].”
“The campus has become more aware, more activist, more energized,” Flores adds. “There are so many issues to tackle.”
Some of his priorities this year include updating student-housing policies and providing additional support to club sports organizations such as the equestrian and ice-hockey clubs. He remains involved with other student organizations close to his heart—Union Philosophical Society, the Muslim Student Association and College Democrats.
Flores also notes that being a campus leader from a traditionally underrepresented group carries with it a certain responsibility.
“Just having a Spanish name is different for people. It’s hard for some to recognize that I go by both names, Juan Carlos,” he says. “It’s not my role to teach people [about race and ethnicity], and I don’t want to be seen in that way, but it is my role to help people understand where I’m coming from.”
That sense of where he comes from—and his desire to help his fellow students reach out and learn about others—infuses his mission as president.
“That’s one of the reasons in my Convocation speech I wanted to talk about the value of finding out who other people are, in seeing all people as real parts of this community and not just numbers running through the system,” he says. “That is one of the things I hope to leave behind.”
This summer, Flores interned with Education Pioneers, a national nonprofit educational-leadership program based in Washington, D.C., that provides fellowships to graduate students working on education reform. While there, he helped facilitate workshops, plan events, manage the Web site and enhance the organization’s internship program.
The internship also helped him cement his plans for the future.
When Flores first came to Dickinson, he knew what he wanted to do—become a criminal prosecutor. Now, as he considers his final year and beyond, he’s not so sure. During the fall pause, he began applying to several service-based organizations focused on education.
Law school is still on the table, he says, only a few years out. But the opportunity to help young people overcome a system that is often arrayed against them is a strong motivator for him. “It relates to my own experience,” he says. “I had to navigate that system.”