Celebrating 10 Years of Webster Suggs Scholars: Olivia Perez
February 05, 2023
Webster University’s Dr. Donald M. Suggs Scholarship program is 10 years old this year. Webster is reaching out to some of the 37 students or alumni who benefited from the program to feature their personal and professional successes.
BA, Media Communications
Class of 2017
For Olivia Perez, being a Suggs Scholar was the difference between being able to finish her degree – or not.
“I am so fortunate for the blessing that was that scholarship,” Perez said. "Without it, I would not have had the means to finish school at that time. Being awarded that scholarship is one of the top achievements of my 27 years of life.”
Ten years ago, Perez was not just any Suggs Scholar; she was the very first one. And she was more than ready for everything new the experience could bring.
“I was excited to make new friends and discover what life was like outside of the bubble I grew up in,” Perez said.
Perez had just graduated from Eureka High School, a suburban school roughly 30 miles outside St. Louis, when she arrived at Webster in 2013. Already a professional dancer with a true artist’s spirit, she continued that passion while pursuing a bachelor’s in media communications with an emphasis in video production, and a minor in Spanish.
“I chose that degree because I knew I wanted to have skills in the communications field,” Perez said. “However, I wasn't exactly sure what career direction I wanted to take at that time.”
As it turns out, the literal direction Perez would take was twofold – first inward, to accept and embrace her full potential. Then, ultimately, West, to Los Angeles. The Suggs Scholarship, she said, was both a great connector, and a true self-esteem builder.
“The program introduced me to many other accomplished and admirable individuals that set a great example for me,” Perez said. “It also enlightened me to the fact that I am capable of great things and was a motivation to continue to pursue excellence in my academic career.”
On the long, yet distinguished list of influential people she met at Webster, Perez places several professors, including Terri F. Reily, for offering an abundance of exposure to visual art, Bernie Hayes, who she said was the first black professor she ever had, and Sister Jan Hayes of the Sisters of Loretto, whose lessons from an Ethics in Media class Perez said she still applies regularly in her daily life.
There was also Professors Aaron Aubuchon, the “kind, and insightful advisor” for her senior project, and Kathy Corley, who took Perez and many other communications students on an influential and “amazing” trip to L.A.
Writing to Webster from that same city, now her home, Perez said these days she does, well, “a lot.”
She’s a professional dancer with credits that include Neiman Marcus, "America's Got Talent," Sell Easy, Six Flags, and much more. (A professional dance opportunity she had in Mexico last year has her itching to leave the country again, she said.)
She also puts the skills she built at Webster to use regularly in her media career.
“I work as a production assistant for YoSy Media, a black-owned media company that produces "It's Sybil,” a livestream show/newsletter/social media platform hosted by Sybil Wilkes, former co-host of the legendary Tom Joyner morning show,” Perez said.
She is also co-creative director of an upcoming art photography book called "Colors Only" that centers “all women of color through expressive artistic photography, poetry, and visual art.”
Finally, she teaches and choreographs, “once in a blue moon” when the opportunity arises.
As for her personal interests and passions, they remain much the same as when she was a Webster University Student Ambassador and Gorlok Guide.
“Except my worldview has broadened significantly, and I have a lot more confidence in what makes me, me," she said.
When asked what her future goals were, Perez said they are more personal these days than when she was a very driven student. She is in more of a “fun era,” now that she has some hard-won work-life balance. Her to-do list includes continuing her work in dance, hopefully traveling abroad again soon, working on a televised award show, redecorating her apartment, and catching a concert or two. (Janet Jackson came to mind as a possibility, she said.)
In short, in answering Webster’s questions from the midst of her post-college life, Perez sounded busy – and content. For other young students standing where she once did, striving for that same outcome, she had some advice.
“As a student of color, many of the cards of life are stacked against you. You may be starting behind the starting line. So, you must push yourself forward in ways the 'other folks' don't even have to think about,” Perez said. “But that can only happen if you believe deep down you are worthy of your dreams. If you believe in yourself so much that your presence in your respective field is undeniable, you will attract the people, opportunities, and experiences that are perfectly meant for you.”
The last note of wisdom Perez had to share was one of gratitude.
“I cannot overstate how impactful being able to attend Webster on the Suggs Scholarship was to my trajectory of life,” she said. “Thank you to Dr. Suggs for changing my life.”
About the Suggs Scholarship
The Dr. Donald M. Suggs Scholarship was established to honor Dr. Donald M. Suggs,
an oral surgeon, newspaper publisher, patron of the arts, and distinguished community
leader, and is administered by The St. Louis American Foundation. The scholarship
is designed to enhance recruitment and retention of academically talented undergraduate
students from communities that are typically under-represented in higher education.
The funding for the Webster University Dr. Suggs Scholarship Program is provided by
Webster University. A committee of staff volunteers helps select students for the
program. Webster University has 32 students currently enrolled in the program, more
than double that of any other participating institution of higher education.