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What you need to know for 04/23/2017

Blind Amsterdam teen to lead student body

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Blind Amsterdam teen to lead student body

Sixth- and seventh-graders at Lynch Middle School elected Luis Perez as president of the Student Cou
Blind Amsterdam teen to lead student body
Luis Perez, front right, has been elected Student Council president at Lynch Middle School in Amsterdam. Bella Porter, front left, will serve with him on the council as secretary. Standing behind them are Student Council advisor Colleen Resila, left, a...
Photographer: Sudip Bhattacharya

Luis Perez has very high expectations for himself.

“I wanted to be the first blind president at Lynch,” the 13-year-old Lynch Middle School student said with a grin.

That dream came true Friday, when sixth- and seventh-graders at the school elected Perez as president of the Student Council, making him the first blind student to fill the job. He will serve as president next year as an eighth-grader.

“I’m excited. I just feel like I completed a goal in seventh grade,” he said, the grin still on his face.

Perez was an officer on the Student Council in January when he heard about the election for president. He immediately thought of running.

The campaign, which started at the end of May, included hanging up posters and getting more students to know him. His aide since fourth grade, Michele Cetnar, helped him along the way, but she knew much of the effort and drive to be president emanated from Perez himself.

“He’s a very ambitious young man,” she said. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself.”

Colleen Resila, the Student Council adviser, has known Perez since he was in sixth grade. She said she was excited when she saw his name on the list of candidates, describing Perez as “independent and headstrong.”

The process even to run for president is not easy. Students must have at least an 85 average in all their classes. They must also gather at least 50 signatures from students to show they have support. And they must obtain at least one letter of recommendation. Plus, their guidance counselor has to approve of them running. Perez faced four other students for the position.

Perez became blind at age 5 when he sustained retinal detachment in both eyes. His mother, Myrna Rivera, however, has always told him he could accomplish whatever he wanted.

“I tell him all the time, the sky is the limit for him,” she said. “I want him to study, to be someone in life, to go to college, to keep his excellent grades. I want him to be him. I want him to enjoy every moment of his life in middle school, high school and college.”

Rivera also praised people like Cetnar who have helped Perez with whatever he’s needed.

When meeting Perez for the first time, he can seem a little shy — even his mother knows that — but bit by bit, as with any kid, a simple conversation can begin to crack the shell and reveal the person inside. It becomes clear that Perez is indeed the same young man who is in accelerated math and science classes. He is the same young man who performed at the school’s talent show, singing songs like “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars.

Perez wants to be an author. Although his favorite subject is math (he is extremely good at remembering numbers, including phone numbers), he wants to one day write fantasy novels like the “Harry Potter” series, which are his favorite.

As president, it will be his job next year to listen to the concerns of students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Next week, he, along with the other four members of the Student Council, will help escort and direct the eighth-graders during their graduation ceremony at the high school.

“He’s easy to work with,” said Bella Porter, 12, a classmate of Perez in his accelerated math class who will also serve with him on the Student Council as secretary. “He’s really smart. He’s really nice.”

“You’re going to make me blush,” Perez said with a smile.

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