Tom Perez, a lawyer and the 26th U.S. Secretary of Labor, is a reminder that the American dream is alive and well. Born in Buffalo, New York, Perez came from humble beginnings. His parents were immigrants from the Dominican Republic, and he put himself through college with Pell Grants and by working on the back of a garbage truck. A graduate of Harvard Law, Perez first entered public service in 1989 as a prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department, and has since served in numerous top governmental positions, including Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2017 to 21. Previously, as Secretary of Labor, Perez worked closely with the Obama administration to protect and expand opportunities for America’s working people—from better wages and overtime pay to retirement security and collective bargaining rights. Perez holds honorary degrees from numerous universities in the U.S.
In 1979, Perez enrolled at Brown University, where he seemed to make a strong impression on anyone crossing his path. Unlike many of his peers in the Ivy League, Perez struggled financially. To cover the costs of school and boarding, the industrious young man had to combine his scholarship and federal grants with numerous odd jobs, including being a trash collector and working in Brown's dining hall. During this time, he also got his first taste of public service by working for the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights. Despite the many demands on his time, Perez aced his classes, and he received his Bachelor of Arts in international relations and political science from Brown University in 1983.
Perez has remained attached to his alma mater through the years, and Brown is equally proud of him. In 2010, the Brown Alumni Association honored his civil rights work with the William Rogers award, which is given to alumni who live up to the University charter’s call to live lives “of usefulness and reputation.” In 2014, university leaders awarded Perez with an honorary Doctor of Laws. More recently, in 2017, the former labor secretary was named a senior fellow at the University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.
“Today’s students at Brown will be tomorrow’s leaders,” Perez said while describing his wish to inspire students to consider a path in public service. "Our goal in this study group is to expose students to leaders who have been wrestling with some of the most difficult issues confronting our nation, share lessons of success and failure... as well as to think critically about contributing to the timeless journey of forming a more perfect union.”