PEABODY — Musically talented Luis Navarro sang the national anthem and strummed his guitar for North Shore Community College's virtual graduation Thursday night, capping off his time at the school that gave the immigrant from Venezuela a great start in life.
The 19-year-old Peabody resident came to the North Shore three years ago with his family from Venezuela, a once stable, oil-producing nation that has gone in an economic and political tailspin in recent years.
"We decided to leave because the situation was out of control," said Navarro, who came from the state of Aragua in the central region of Venezuela.
Navarro, who dreamed of one day becoming a music producer, came to the United States with the intention of attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. He auditioned and was granted admission, but had to attend a summer course that he said would have cost $15,000 and there was no guarantee he would be able to get a full scholarship.
Instead he enrolled in North Shore Community College, a school for which he did not have high expectations. That all turned around quickly, he said.
"I really loved my experience there," said Navarro, who started a music club on campus so he could continue with his music. The community college does not offer a music major. "It made me a better person."
Navarro majored in liberal arts. While he thought about social work, he got involved with the Student Government Association; that led him to think about a different major at Suffolk University, where he's studying for his bachelor's degree in political science.
After graduating from North Shore Community College after the fall semester, Navarro enrolled in Suffolk's Politics, Philosophy and Economics major interdisciplinary program. "I wanted to go into something that was going to give me a lot of experiences in different fields," he said.
After starting classes in January at Suffolk, the school transitioned to online learning with the pandemic in March.
"At first, it seemed difficult because I'm one of those people who like to be in the classroom," said Navarro.
However, he has not entirely broken away from North Shore Community College. Navarro has stopped by a few times and remains connected to his adviser from the community college's federal TRIO/Student Support Services program, which is designed to support first-generation college students, those from low-income households, or students with disabilities.
"There is nothing better than having a student who is super-motivated," said Shannon Cormier, an educational adviser for TRIO who worked with Navarro. Cormier also acted as the adviser to his music club.
"He's so passionate about music," added Cormier. "Even though he's not majoring in it, he's made it part of his life."
Even after leaving the school in January, Cormier said Navarro made a video about his experiences with TRIO and came back and performed at a poetry slam.
"He truly took advantage of all of the support services in the college," she said. "He didn't let any opportunity pass."
While Navarro didn't get to perform live or walk across the stage to accept his associate's degree because the ceremony was virtual, he made the most of it.
"I really wanted to have the experience," he said, "and they're doing their best to give us the experience."