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Cortez wins Powell award

By Tina Nazerian     6/25/15 7:58pm

When Daniel Cortez (Jones ‘15) got several text messages from close friends one morning in April, a few weeks before graduation, he had “no idea” what they were congratulating him for. After one friend forwarded him an email from the Rice University Awards list, he found out that he was going to receive the 2015 Gen. Colin Powell Commencement Award for Leadership.

“I was both very excited and confused at the same time,” Cortez said.

At Rice, some of Cortez’s extracurriculars included interning in Texas Senator John Cornyn’s office through the Leadership Rice Mentorship Experience, volunteering with Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees and doing research at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and the Religion and Public Life Program.

“My time at Rice really was such a wonderful experience,” Cortez said. “In some ways the culture of excellence was a challenge. In high school I never really considered myself as being capable of too much. I always was naturally curious and like being involved in activities but I never saw myself as a ‘leader’ per se. Even now I don't think of myself as a leader, or even capable of affecting change.”

When he won the award, Cortez said, he had many moments of self doubt.

“I kept wondering what it said about me and if I really deserved it,” Cortez said. “Part of the reason for this feeling is that, at Rice, I feel like I am surrounded by so many incredible people. It's hard to think that I stand out among them.”

Cortez did not receive the award on stage, instead meeting Gen. Powell at University President David Leebron’s house before the Saturday graduation ceremony.

“It was amazing meeting someone who has had such a profound impact on the world we live in,” Cortez said.

Komal Bansal, who Cortez described as a close friend, said she was not surprised when she found out Cortez was getting the award.

"He has always been committed to the cause of providing educational and leadership opportunities to Latino youth," Bansal (Jones ‘15) said. "His dedication to public service is admirable and inspiring."

Cortez’s friend Mitchell Massey, who was also his roommate for two years, said Cortez’s integrity, passion, optimism and determination are evident to all who know him.

He is constantly thinking about what he can do to help others and to improve himself,” Massey (Jones ‘15) said. “As a friend, he is a great listener and will always give you honest advice. I am very proud of Daniel, and I am proud to be his friend. He is a tremendous guy with great values."

Cortez will be working as a consultant in Houston at Deloitte for a few years before pursuing a master’s degree. He said in Washington, D.C. he learned that the intersection of government and business is pivotal.

“In the long run, I think I’d like to work in government at the local level,” Cortez said. “But I’m keeping things pretty open. I want to use Deloitte as an opportunity to explore new industries.”

Being a public servant, Cortez said, requires really understanding the people and communities you are serving.

“And while I don't think I have that yet — and perhaps never will — I hope that I can immerse myself at the local level,” Cortez said. 

Read more about Cortez and the Powell Award at http://news.rice.edu/2015/05/16/daniel-cortez-honored-with-2015-gen-colin-powell-commencement-award-for-leadership.

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