HAVERHILL — As she graduated from UMass Lowell with perfect grades, one of only six 2020 graduates to hit that mark, Veyli Ortiz Solis of Haverhill was thinking about her father, Carlos Ortiz.
Filled with sadness but buoyed by achieving the academic success her late father hoped for, she imagined how proud he would be.
"He's in my thoughts almost every day," she said. "I'm focusing on the fact that I achieved his dream for me and that I did not let him down. I know he would have given me a big hug and say how proud he was and to continue to work hard."
Carlos Ortiz was the victim of a construction accident in December of 2018 that happened as he worked on the roof of a nine-story downtown building receiving renovations. He fell down an elevator shaft to his death.
Ortiz Solis has been inspired by the dedication her mom and dad applied to everything in their lives.
"Neither parent graduated from high school, but they instilled in me a good work ethic," she said. "I've always loved learning and they always supported me to put my education first."
A criminal justice major in the university's School of Criminology and Justice Studies, Ortiz Solis, 21, was one of just six members of the Class of 2020 to earn the Trustee’s Key for completing all four years with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
"UMass Lowell professors and staff helped me to succeed not only as a student, but as a person,” said Ortiz Solis, who found strong support in the university community after the death of her father.
She said her mother, Marlyn Solis, is also proud of her academic accomplishments.
"She also pushed me to put my best foot forward and she is very supportive of my seeking my master's and doctoral degrees," Ortiz Solis said. "She always encourages me whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed."
Ortiz Solis has two younger sisters — Betsaida, 9, a fourth-grader at Golden Hill Elementary School, and Marlyn, 14, who is graduating from Nettle School and plans to attend Whittier Regional High in the fall. They admire their older sister.
"I help them with their school work and and I encourage them to do well, too," Ortiz Solis said.
A first-generation college student who has benefited from UMass Lowell’s specialized efforts for such students, Ortiz Solis is working with children at the Autism Learning Partners organization in Burlington. She teaches them important life skills such as gaining the attention of a parent in an effective and appropriate way, and reducing negative behaviors such as running away.
Ortiz Solis has already started her master’s degree program in criminal justice at UMass Lowell and wants to earn a doctoral degree in either criminology or sociology, with a focus on crime. She said she hopes to pursue a career in researching why people engage in criminal activity.
"I'd like to focus on the Hispanic community,'' she said. "There isn't a lot of research in this area.''
Ortiz Solis' inspiration to work in the area of criminal justice was sparked during her sophomore year in Haverhill High School's Classical Academy, where she took a class on justice and ethics.
A member of the Haverhill High Class of 2017, she earned enough Advanced Placement credits that she was able to skip her freshman year at UMass Lowell.
"I was able to earn my bachelor's degree in just three years," she said.
Her secrets to academic success included following a schedule with five or more hours of study each day.
In addition to receiving the Trustees Key for her perfect grades, Ortiz Solis was one of just 17 UMass Lowell graduates among a total of 4,434 to receive the Chancellor's Medal for Academic Achievement, which goes to the top bachelor’s degree recipients in each of UMass Lowell’s schools and colleges.
She also received the Amy Finn Human Spirit Award and the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award for the School of Criminology and Justice Studies.
More information about UMass Lowell's Commencement is available at uml.edu/commencement.