By Ariana Garcia, Statesman
The future looks bright for Roman Zepeda.
The 21-year-old political science and leadership major from Prairie View A&M University recently completed Officer Candidate School with the Marine Corps. Now, he’s on his way to Capitol Hill for a semester-long Emerging Leaders internship with the Congressional Black Caucus, where he will work alongside U.S. Congressman Pete Olson for the fall session.
But things didn’t always look up for the aspiring Marine and first-generation college student.
Growing up in a single-parent household presented a unique set of struggles for Zepeda, who had a passion for serving his community and dreamt of someday serving in the military.
In school, Zepeda, who identifies as African-American and Mexican, said he was often bullied for his appearance, leading him to skip class. That led him to have more than 40 absences, and his grades suffered, earning him a 2.3 grade-point average his sophomore year of high school.
“It was really hard,” he said. “To say that it didn’t affect my mentality towards other people or school, I’d be lying. I was definitely slowed down a lot. I wasn’t focused, and I didn’t want to go to class. I would avoid everything.”
It wasn’t until teachers and community leaders stepped in that his life turned around. That outreach got him to join the Explorers Program, where he shadowed police officers. Later he joined the Junior Police Academy as the program’s first drill sergeant.
“They didn’t care what I looked like,” he said of police. “They didn’t care that I was brown or about my situation, and that’s where it all started.”
Since Zepeda’s first steps into community involvement, he said things began changing for the better.
He graduated high school with a 2.7 GPA and was accepted into Prairie View A&M, where he joined the Navy ROTC program.
When he landed his congressional internship, Zepeda made sure to recognize everyone who made a positive impact on his life. He credits Stony Point High School Principal Anthony Watson, Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks, Round Rock school district Superintendent Steve Flores and former Mayor Alan McGraw as just a few of the mentors who helped guide him to pursue a college degree and make better choices.
“I called everyone who’s ever given me a word of advice or support. I told them, ‘I don’t know if you knew I was pursuing this, but I want you to know that you getting me out of that hole I thought I was in,’ ” he said.
Now, Zepeda continues to share his story with others. He recently spoke to a crowd of over 350 Round Rock school district teachers.
“It’s not the GPA, ACT or SAT scores that make a person, and that’s what I’m trying to tell teachers,” he said.
Concerned with food insecurity among some students at his university, he and other students helped to get a food bank approved at the school. As Zepeda put it, “It only makes sense for me to give back.”
He also worked with local governments to help build bridges between police and the Prairie View community. Last year, he served as an intern in the Round Rock City Manager’s office.
“What it comes down to is people helping people,” he said. “That’s why I’m on this mission; serving has always been on my agenda.”
After Zepeda completes his internship and his expected graduation from Prairie View University in May, he will begin his career as a second lieutenant officer in the Marine Corps. After that, he said he wants to return to Round Rock to serve the community, with aspirations to be a city manager or mayor.
“I say there’s a God out there, and this God, he loves me so much,” he said. “Because it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter where you’re at currently; it matters what you can bring and what you’re willing to do.”
In a recent facebook post, Zepeda shares his gratitude-
All glory be to God the Most High. I am ecstatic to announce that I have been awarded the Emerging Leaders internship with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation where I will serve in the office of Congressman Pete Olson (TX-22). I will spend this Fall semester in Washington D.C. participating in the many aspects of the legislative process.
I cannot describe the amount of gratitude I share for everyone who has assisted in bringing this vision to reality.
I am blessed to have the continued support from The City of Round Rock – to include the Round Rock Police Department and Round Rock Independent School District. Thank y’all for affording me numerous opportunities of practical learning experience – which has ultimately developed me into a better scholar.
I am also grateful for the dedicated faculty and staff at my beautiful institution, Prairie View A&M University. Thank y’all for challenging me in the classroom and investing in my growth. I wholeheartedly believe that I am equipped with the tools to be a successful Intern on Capitol Hill.
I am especially thankful for my tenacious mentors and loving family, especially Cassandra Mathews and Alexis Zepeda. Y’all have been the foundation of motivation through many trials and tribulations, and are appreciated more than I can express.
It has taken a village of great people to bring out my potential, and I collectively thank each of you for believing in me.
#CBCF #PVAMU #PV19 #PVTakeoverDC #CapitolHill #EmergingLeaders