Leah Perz, graduating student, begins family legacy as UAB Blazers

Honors College student Leah Perz will graduate this Saturday, May 2, with her parents following her footsteps, for all to be a part of the UAB Blazer community.

Environmental shot of Leah Perz (Student, International Studies and Foreign Languages) taken inside University Hall, 2020.Leah Perz 
Photography: Steve Wood
Leah Perz knew the moment she stepped onto the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s campus that she was going to be a Blazer. Little did she know that her parents, Jonathan and Sally Anne Perz, would blaze the path with her.   

“When I first arrived at UAB to take a tour, I knew this was going to be my campus the moment we stepped onto the green,” Perz said. “I still remember breathing in the crisp air, imagining what it would be like to walk to classes every day, touring a room in Blazer Hall, and looking at my mom and saying with the tentative confidence of a soon-to-be college freshman: ‘I think this is it.’”

Perz is one of six children, and is the first to commit to a full four-year university experience.

“My mother homeschooled all of us, and is still homeschooling my younger brother now,” Perz said. “She has her bachelor’s in English from USF, and she’s at UAB completing her master’s in English literature. My UAB journey inspired her to return to school last year. My father attends UAB too, completing his bachelor’s in computer science and anticipating a master’s in cybersecurity.” 

Perz says her parents were inspired by her commitment and accomplishments throughout her time in college. 

“My dad had always supported my dreams into becoming realities, tempering them with wise advice and patiently guiding me,” Perz said. “I think my college experience encouraged him to finish the studies that he began in the ’80s, before his time in the Air Force; it makes me smile to realize that the daunting idea of taking classes perhaps became a feasible reality after I constantly shared all the intricate details of college life with exhausting accuracy.”

After taking some classes at Jefferson State, Leah’s dad committed to a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and has taken a few classes each semester while continuing to support their family.

Upon acceptance into the five-year master’s program, her father will graduate from UAB in spring 2021.  

“As for my mother, her enthusiasm for college countered my own since before freshman move-in day,” Perz said. “She constantly brimmed with excitement whenever I called to talk about homework, volunteering and other aspects of my college life. Having completed her bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1991 as a traditional student at UF and USF, she returned to college at UAB when I was a junior to receive a master’s degree in English rhetoric and composition.” 

Her mother will graduate in summer 2020, and hopes to teach university English courses, while still homeschooling her youngest son. She has plans to eventually pursue a Ph.D. in English.

“While I did play a role in inspiring my parents to re-enter the academic realm, I also want to recognize that my dreams to go to college were shaped by their influence and support,” Perz said. “Since my mom homeschooled all six of us kids, everything we learned was fueled by her love for education and learning. My dad also helped me to appreciate aspects of things like math and computers that I probably would not have appreciated if not for the way that he taught me to analyze and strategize over each problem.” 

Perz says she knew she would be able to succeed in a college education because her parents had fully equipped her to adapt to any learning situation and grow in every environment, inside and outside of the classroom.

“My parents inspired me through their discipline, resilience and love,” Perz said.  

Along with her parents, Perz also believes that UAB has truly played a large part in who she is today.  

“UAB has given me the opportunities to grow and thrive in ways that equipped me with the skillset I needed to enter the rest of my life with increased confidence, intercultural competence and diverse capabilities,” Perz said.  

Perz says that living in the heart of Birmingham, working as a resident assistant for three years and graduating with highly distinguished honors are some of the overarching influences that guided her to where she is today.  

Perz2Honors College student Leah Perz will graduate this Saturday, May 2, with her parents following her footsteps, for all to be a part of the UAB Blazer community. Photography: Steve Wood“UAB’s service learning courses enabled me to explore multiple communities within Birmingham, where I was able to serve at institutions that connected to what I was learning about in my courses,” Perz said. “My time in the residence halls, supporting the freshmen community, equipped me with crisis response training, needs-based programming strategies and teamwork skills that I continue to utilize today. Finally, the Honors College Personalized Path program at UAB immersed me in specialized courses, networking opportunities and a caring support system that encouraged me throughout these past five years.” 

Kerry Madden-Lunsford, associate professor and director of Creative Writing, UAB’s Department of English, who not only taught Perz, but also her mother, applauds Perz for her determination and academic excellence while at UAB.  

“I am so proud of my 212 student, Leah Perz, who, on the first day of class assured me she was not really creative or a writer and definitely not a ‘creative writer,’” said Madden-Lunsford. 

“She proved that concern wrong tenfold. She wrote a hauntingly evocative essay on James Baldwin's ‘Sonny's Blues’ and her quarantine essay, ‘Finding Solace, Defining Normal’ captured the piercing isolation that we’re all feeling right now. Leah truly raised the bar in all our class discussions by engaging so deeply with the literature, which encouraged others to speak up too. What a joy to have such a bright and compassionate light in the class who is going to do so many beautiful things in the world.”

“Today, I know that UAB has truly given me the knowledge to change the world through all of the amazing moments that helped me learn, personally grow and professionally develop — UAB has provided me with a community that I know I can lean on,” Perz said.

After graduation, Perz is moving to Colorado, where she has been accepted into the University of Denver’s Master’s in International Human Rights program beginning this fall. Upon finishing graduate school, she intends to pursue a career in transnational anti-human trafficking.

Perz will attend the Honors Medallion Ceremony on Friday, May 1, and graduate on Saturday, May 2, with a dual major, but with two separate degrees — a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies with a minor in peace, justice and ecology and a Bachelor of Arts degree in foreign languages and literature with a concentration in French from the UAB College of Arts and Sciences.