YONKERS, N.Y. – Victor Couto took the road less traveled to obtain his college degree. On Friday, May 16, 10 years after the Yonkers resident left high school, the 27-year-old will serve as the senior speaker at commencement at Purchase College-SUNY.
Friday’s commencement at Westchester County Center begins at 12:30 p.m. Degrees will be conferred upon approximatey 1,000 graduates and Jodi Long (1976) and Peter Powchik (1979) will each receive a President’s Award for Distinguished Alumni. They will be among those giving speeches with Couto, who will graduate with a degree in journalism.
The path Couto took to get his degree was extraordinary, including seven years, three colleges and a minimum of sleep.
“The message I want to get across is this is a very long journey,’’ Couto said. “It was a long journey for me just to realize I wanted to go to school. It’s OK if you need to time to hit the re-start button. We all have different ways of getting to this point.”
After graduating from Lincoln High School in Yonkers in 2004, Couto went to work. He worked as a retail manager for three years before moving to Los Angeles for eight months. He realized his upward mobility goals were limited without a college degree.
“Los Angeles was a nice change of pace,’’ Couto said. “When I came back to New York, I needed a job. And I wanted to go back to school.”
Couto moved to Middletown, N.Y., and eventually got his associate's degree from Orange County Community College. He also took some classes at Westchester Community College. Afterwards, he took a five-week course at Purchase College to help students to transition to four year schools.
“It helped with the whole transition,’’ Couto said. “After I got my associate's, I didn’t know what to do. It was an unfamiliar process. But I knew I wanted to stay in the game and I wanted more than an associate's degree. Being at Purchase for those five weeks, it made me realize what a great atmosphere it was. It was a great learning environment and everybody was helpful. It just felt right.”
In all, it will have taken Couto seven years to earn his degree. He worked full-time while attending school, and commuted from Yonkers. “It was full of a lot of sacrifice and realizing I can’t hold too many things on my plate at once,’’ he said. “I could not work as much, but I knew at the end I’ll be doing something I love and I’m passionate about.”
Couto was the first member from his family to attend college. He remembers being the only “four-year old around” who would watch television news. He saw a clip of current Purchase professor Mary Alice Williams when she worked for the "Today Show" on NBC.
“It just sparked this overwhelming excitement,’’ he said. “If I wanted to be in that chair, under the lights at Rockefeller Center, I need more education. I wanted to hone those skills.”
Couto worked as an intern last year at Newsday, and has also been a production assistant for a television station and worked as a radio disc jockey. He compiled a 3.9 GPA at Purchase, made Dean’s List three straight semesters and won the school’s Peter Keller Journalism Scholarship Award.
On Friday, he’ll stand before his classmates and tell them that the road he took was long, arduous and bumpy. And totally worth it.
“I’m just happy to get to this point,’’ Couto said. “There’s a sense of pride, knowing no one else in my immediate family has been able to get this far. I’m happy my family will be there watching me deliver this and knowing I was able to do this in my lifetime is a great thing. I hope my message that resonates with the student body.”