Unexpected Gift for SMU Student

Jennifer Perez never imagined she would one day be a graduate of Southern Methodist University, because she never even imagined she would one day come to America. 

Growing up in Tela, Honduras, Perez dreamed of pursuing a college education in the states. Despite good grades and two hard-working parents, an American education was financially out of the question. 

That all changed during a chance encounter with Dallas couple Grady and Mary Elizabeth Schleier.

The couple had been traveling to the village for years for church mission trips when they met Perez during a service project.

"I met Jennifer and she was so smart and so enthusiastic," said Grady Schleier.

Unbeknownst to his wife, years earlier Schleier had written a bucket list with the goal of changing one person's life, only he never knew who and what that wish might look like. He said it all clicked when he met Perez.

Empty-nesters after raising two sons, the Schleiers took the bold step of inviting Perez to live with them and offered to pay for her college education.

It's an offer Jennifer and the Perez family accepted, despite fears over what the future might hold.

"I know my mother has given up a lot for me to be here," said Perez.

After two years of community college, SMU offered Perez a scholarship to complete a four-year degree.

During that time, Perez excelled in her studies while mastering the English language, became an American citizen and now considers herself lucky to be a part of two families. 

"I don't know what our life would be like without her," said Mary Elizabeth Schleier. "Not nearly as fun or as interesting or as fulfilling."

Over the weekend she graduated from SMU's Cox School of Business and all of her family was there to watch.

Her parents, siblings and grandmother from Honduras traveled to Dallas to celebrate the occasion and watched the big moment alongside the Schleiers.

"It's not enough to say [thank you]," said Perez. "I'm truly grateful to everyone who has put an effort into me and I hope one day I can give it back in some way."

Perez will start a job with KPMG in the fall while studies to become a Certified Public Accountant.

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