By Mark E. Vogler
---- — Going to college wasn’t even a goal for Rudy Baez after receiving his diploma in 2007, as part of the last senior class at the old Lawrence High School. He went back to the Dominican Republic.
“I was drained,” recalled Baez, 23, who worked in a call center conducting telephone surveys for about a year before realizing he had an unfinished education to pursue back in America.
“Once I went back to the Dominican Republic, I was rejuvenated. I understood why my parents wanted to send me to the United States. They wanted me to get a better education and find a better life. So, I came back,” he said.
Saturday, Baez gets to accomplish something that nobody in his family has ever done: complete a college education. He will receive a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the UMass Lowell.
Baez also distinguished himself as one of the outstanding members of this year’s graduating class — one of six out of 3,169 graduates to win the Chancellor’s Medal for Student Service. The award recognizes seniors who have made outstanding contributions to the university through involvement in programs that improve the quality of life for students.
UMass Lowell recognized Baez for his participation in campus activities and for his leadership, particularly for creating and managing the university’s nationally-recognized “Mission: All In” rewards program. It was designed initially to boost student attendance at home sporting events, but later expanded for all campus activities. He was also a founding member and president of Men Achieving Leadership Excellence and Success (M.A.L.E.S.), a student group where members dress up “professionally” on Mondays with suits and ties.
“Your involvement in our university community and student life during your undergraduate years is greatly appreciated,” UMass Lowell Dean of Students Larry Siegel wrote in a recent letter to to Baez, congratulating him for winning the Chancellor’s Medal for Student Service.
“It has served as an example to others as to how student initiatives provide a vital role in shaping the total college experience,” Siegel wrote. “You earned every part of this. I am very proud of you,” he added at the end of the letter. Baez will receive the award tomorrow night at a Commencement Eve Celebration.
Baez credited his grandmother and late mother for being the inspiration for his educational pursuits. While a student at Lawrence High School, his grandmother — Alida Baez — was his guardian. He lived in her home.
“My grandmother is in a nursing home now, but will be attending the graduation on Saturday,” Baez said.
“To have her watch me walk across that stage is going to be such a great accomplishment. My grandmother and mother were main forces pushing me toward college. So, I was determined to make them proud,” he said.
Initially, college didn’t come easy for Baez, who was on academic warning for his first two semesters. It was difficult to get good grades, while working 30-plus hours per week while being a student and commuting to class, he said. Things drastically changed for the better when he cut back on his part-time work hours and moved to the UMass campus and spent more time on being a student..
“Once I got on campus, I saw the benefits of getting involved and getting engaged in student life,” Baez said.
“Eventually, I got it together. I wasn’t the best student, but once I started getting involved, my grade point average started getting better, and it’s been above 3.0 for the last five semesters. Had I not moved onto campus. I don’t think I would have ever graduated,” he said.
While not a Dean’s List Student, his grades are good enough to further his education. Yesterday, Baez learned that he has been accepted into a two-year master’s degree program at the Graduate School of Education at UMass Lowell.
“The great thing about getting involved, you meet so many people, and they all want to see you succeed and do better,” Baez said.
“I owe thanks to a lot of faculty, staff and administrators who have helped me and mentored me in all areas.That’s what makes UMass Lowell like a big family. Once I’m out there in the real world, I definitely want to come back to UMass Lowell and give back. I’m hoping to be one of those alumni who come back and maybe start a scholarship,” he said.