Kelvin Ortiz Gets a Second Chance at LaGuardia to Make His Immigrant Family Proud

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY (March 22, 2023)Paralegal Studies major Kelvin Ortiz, 23, came to LaGuardia Community College/CUNY after an unsuccessful experience at a four-year college. Kelvin’s story is not uncommon for many college students who struggle at a four-year school; however, his experience not only impacted his academic future, but the relationship with his family.

After finishing high school, Kelvin enrolled at Hunter College. However, he was academically dismissed after two semesters, which Kelvin attributes to his early success having become a published author at age 18. He is the author of the novel, “ Pretty Women Curse, Ugly Men Sing” (Halcyon Novellas, 2018). “I was dreadfully arrogant. I didn’t attend my classes half the time. My grades reflected this inattention, and I was put on academic probation before being dismissed.”

Kelvin tried to hide his dismissal from his immigrant family from the Dominican Republic, who had pinned their hopes and dreams for a better future in America on him. “Since I was born, my family members—which includes 30 cousins, eight aunts, and three uncles—have told me that I needed to do what they don’t have the option to—succeed in America. Many can’t speak English or speak Spanglish.”

Despite his efforts, Kelvin’s mother, Rosseni Santana, found out about his dismissal. “My mother, who had me at 17 and raised me by herself, put everything she had into giving me the opportunities she didn’t have. She moved us to section 8 housing in Ozone Park, Queens so that I’d receive a proper education,” said Kelvin.

“My dismissal led to a falling out with my family,” said Kelvin, who lives in Ridgewood, Queens. “It’s like I went from being the golden child to being treated like a burnout. It was a very dark period of my life.”

“I went on to spend the next three years working hard-labor jobs where I forgot my ambitions and goals,” Kelvin said. “Finally, I decided to return to college when a manager told me I was wasting my potential. I chose to pursue becoming a paralegal because I was interested in the law as a means to help immigrants and disadvantaged individuals. I chose LaGuardia because it has one of the country’s few American Bar Association approved Paralegal Studies Programs.”

He enrolled at LaGuardia and tried to make up for lost time by getting involved in support programs and student activities.

“I made it a mission to take every opportunity LaGuardia has to offer,” said Kelvin, who has a 3.8 GPA. “I am an ASAP student advised by Liana Brower, who was essential to my re-entry to college. Through ASAP I’ve earned a Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship and Member status.”

Kelvin has taken on student leadership roles, including serving as acting president of the Criminal Justice Club and as a Student Ambassador for Casa de la Américas.

“In conjunction with my La Casa position, I secured a New York State Supreme Court Justice, Patria Frias-Colon, to serve as the judge at LaGuardia’s Premier Mock Trial on May 1 (Law Day),” Kelvin said. “I established a basic framework for practice trials, ran our meetings, and delegated tasks. The process of establishing this key-stone event for paralegal students is ongoing and I am proud of our progress.”

Kelvin’s passion for Paralegal Studies is growing steadily, thanks to his experiences at LaGuardia. In December 2022, he was one of three students selected for a six-month paralegal internship at MetLife. He began the internship in January, and it will conclude in June 2023.

“The Paralegal Studies professors I’ve met at LaGuardia (Professors Youngik Yoon, Juan Hyong Hong, Ibrahim Shatara, and Howard Justvig) are working lawyers with experience and connections,” he said. “Many hire students or connect them to life-changing opportunities. They genuinely want to help you obtain a career. This is best exemplified by my mentor Hector Fernandez, who put me forward for the MetLife internship.”

Kelvin is making sure to thank his mentors and others in his academic and professional lives that are helping and supporting him along the way. “I recently hosted a 13-person Mentor’s Dinner to thank old friends and mentors who’ve helped me through these past years. It was a capstone event to thank all of them for helping me reach my potential.”

Attendees at the Mentor’s Dinner included Professor Justvig; former World Champion Kick-Boxer Maurepaz Auguste, Kelvin’s kickboxing trainer; Kim Lonzo, a friend Kelvin made at LaGuardia and a recent student spotlight subject; and Kelvin’s best friend Tristan De Lange.

Today, Kelvin is on track to graduate from LaGuardia in December 2023, and plans to earn his bachelor’s degree and ultimately go to law school.

“I’m overwhelmed with opportunities I didn’t think I’d get even last year,” said Kelvin. “My heart is set on Columbia University, but I’d appreciate the chance to go back to Hunter and prove myself after being dismissed years ago. Another option I’m considering is City College’s Honors Program in Legal Studies. Either way I want to study abroad in England to understand the root of our legal system and case law, as well as study some New York practicing lawyers that work in London with respect to sanctions.”

Meanwhile, Kelvin is making his family proud and inspiring some of his family members to pursue higher education. After he went back to college, two cousins have done the same.

“My goal is to achieve enough knowledge and practice of the law so that I will have the means to make an impact on the communities I grew up in and ones like them, as my grandfather had,” Kelvin said. “My grandfather, Hipolito Santana, was the greatest man I ever knew and served as my father. Everything I’ve have done, is to make him proud.”

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LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC), a Hispanic-Serving Institution, located in Long Island City, Queens offers more than 50 degrees and certificates, and more than 65 continuing education programs to educate New Yorkers seeking new skills and careers. As an institution of the City University of New York (CUNY), the College reflects the legacy of our namesake, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the former NYC mayor beloved for his advocacy of underserved populations. Since 1971, LaGuardia’s academic programs and support services have advanced the socioeconomic mobility of students while providing them with access to a high quality, affordable college education.


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