Laura Perry pursued her college education with passionby Jan Janes on Feb 17, 2020
Laura Perry, Gavilan College Trustee serving Area 1, didn’t attend college right after high school.
“I never thought I would have the opportunity,” said Perry. At the height of the Vietnam War she married and had a baby at age 18. Years later, circumstances allowed her to pursue her college dream.
As a child, she recalled reading Nancy Drew books and watching television programs about the law. “I had always wanted to be an attorney since I was really young,” she said. But living in Morgan Hill, married with two kids, limited what she could do and where she could go.
Then circumstances showed up in a surprise job loss, a jolt, and she jumped at her chance.
“Going to college when you’re older,” said Perry, “You have financial goals and look for an economic return. But, also, there were other things missing from my life.”
She drove to the Gilroy campus to see a counselor. “I think, the day I drove out there was the first time ever on campus,” she said. She knew she wanted a business degree and to go to law school.
“I also wanted to learn a new language, so I enrolled in Spanish,” said Perry. “I wanted to learn a new sport, golf. And I wanted to learn a new instrument, so I signed up for piano.” She enrolled in 18 units in the fall of 1983 and carried a full load every semester.
“I absolutely fell in love with going to school.”
When the student is a parent
“My kids were 13 and 11, and they thought it was great,” Perry said. But sometimes she had to pull away and study. “I would sit at Pop Warner and read a book, or go to a practice and sit in the car and study.” Friends recalled she would accompany the children but not socialize with others because she was always reading, writing a paper, completing notebooks.
“If you want to succeed and get into a professional school,” she said, “All your time is invested in school.”
Perry attended Gavilan from 1983 through 1986, an era when there was no tuition. “It’s not a new idea,” she said. “And I’m in favor of it again.”
Graduating from Gavilan in 1986, Perry earned a scholarship and transferred to San José State University, where she majored in marketing in the College of Business.
“I ripped right through,” said Perry, graduating in May 1988. “I was lucky to have a husband who wanted me to be in school. He insisted that if I was going to do it, to do it right.” Perry was accepted to Santa Clara University School of Law in 1988 and graduated May 1991.
A different pace - Gavilan College in the 1980s
Two notable Gavilan instructors stood out for her.
“Tony Ruiz, my Spanish teacher, thought it was great I was back in school,” she said. “He encouraged me, every day.” On a recent trip to the Pyrenees, Perry got to use the Spanish she learned in his classes.
“These things don’t get handed to you, you need to put in the effort,” said Perry. “It was available at Gavilan, and I wanted to learn it all.”
Her political science instructor, Frank Fletcher, served as a mentor. “He knew I wanted to go to law school,” she said. Fletcher introduced her to former Assemblyman Rusty Areais, and she worked in his office. “This was all brand new to me, and I knew I would be involved in politics somehow.”
In the 1980s, Gavilan College was just the main Gilroy campus, the student population was smaller, the teachers were full time, and the education system was different. Perry noted the difference between the community college environment and her time at SJSU.
“I loved going to school back then,” she said. “The teachers, Marcy Douglas, Don Kline, were available to talk during their office hours.” At SJSU she found an entirely different structure, and couldn’t find people or support.
Newly graduated attorney runs for a seat on the board
Gavilan College Trustee Charlie Jackson decided not to run for reelection. “He approached me to see if I was interested,” she said. Winning the election in 1992, Perry has served as a Gavilan College Trustee since then.
“One of my personal objectives is to provide access to education,” said Perry, noting the Guided Pathways program, Student Success and support for tuition-free community college.
Board Chair Laura Perry cuts the ribbon at the 2017 Coyote Valley campus
grand opening, accompanied by Gavilan College Trustees and administration.
During her tenure, Gavilan College has established the Hollister and Morgan Hill satellite campuses, passed Bond Measure E, opened Coyote Valley, purchased land for the Hollister campus and passed Bond Measure X, which will fund upgrades to both Hollister and Gilroy.
“There has been tremendous growth since I have been on the board,” she said. “Our big goal now is building the San Benito County campus.”
Perry noted the college presidents she has worked with. “John Holleman, Glen Mayley, Rosemarie Joyce, Steve Kinsella and now Kathleen Rose,” she said. “We are very fortunate. Their different leadership styles have equaled success for Gavilan.”
Gavilan – a family affairPerry’s daughter grew up to attend Gavilan College, graduated from the RN program and now works at a hospital in Reno. Perry’s grandson is just getting started, with a career goal of engineering.
“I know Gav,” Perry said of her journey. “It is so much a part of me because I attended as a student. It was my gateway to where I am today.”