Celebrating a Milestone

Close-up of a mariachi violinist


As a student, Kevin Pelaez ’14 (BA) was involved in MEChA, which stands for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán, an organization that promotes higher education, community engagement, political participation, culture and history.  

He says that being a part of MEChA was a way for students to celebrate their food, heritage and shared experiences. They also shared feelings that they didn’t always feel included in the campus student experience. Most of the club’s events were held on Monday, a day he made sure to keep clear on his calendar.

“MEChA provided us a space that felt like an extension of home,” Pelaez says. “We had fiesta nights, salsa nights, we’d hire a DJ who would play Spanish-language music. We honored our culture, and we served the community as well. My first year, we went into communities like City Heights and registered people to vote.”

When Pelaez graduated with a degree in mathematics he was one of a handful of students who participated in USD’s Latino/a commencement ceremony, a more intimate gathering of students and their families.

It was an incredibly special moment for his family.

“It was held in Spanish so my parents could understand. There was a mariachi band, we celebrated with Mexican food and my family had the chance to meet my friends,” Pelaez says. “It was an event that celebrated the whole family and was as much about them as it was about me.”

The Latino/a graduation ceremony is run by students and is supported by the administration and by the Alumni Association. Each year, the first-years, sophomores and juniors put the event on for the seniors.

When he graduated, Pelaez helped to found the Latino Alumni Network, which in many ways felt like an extension of the MEChA club he enjoyed so much. The main goals of the group were to endow a scholarship for Latino/a students, provide networking opportunities for students and to engage alumni.

The group has held painting and mezcal-tasting events. 

“People enjoyed them and net proceeds would go toward our scholarship endowment,” Pelaez says. “I’m proud every time I meet a first-time attendee at one of our events or a first-time donor who’s supporting the cause.”

Kara Marsh Proffitt ’04 (BA), USD’s director of alumni operations and engagement, says the work done by alumni affinity groups has a ripple effect that makes a difference for students and for alumni. “At USD, we’re a family that goes back for nearly 75 years,” she says. “Our hope is that alumni reach back to help and support the students who came after them. When those students graduate, hopefully they’ll do the same for the next generation.”

The Latino Alumni Network just celebrated its fifth anniversary. This year, Pelaez is serving as president and is extremely proud of all that the alumni in the group have accomplished since its inception. Last year, during USD’s day of giving, Torero Tuesday, the group raised enough money to fully endow its scholarship.

“We focused on a whole day of giving and held mini challenges,” Pelaez says. “Everyone was so generous and, as a result, the Latino Alumni Network, along with several other alumni networks — including the Black Alumni Network and the PRIDE Alumni Network — all reached their goals. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”Krystn Shrieve

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