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GSMST grad Sandra Perez was a recipient of the KPMG Future Leaders Scholarship and met the 69th Secretary of State of the U.S., Condoleezza Rice, at a summit in Minnesota last week.

A little bit of support can go a long way, especially when it comes from successful people.

In simpler terms, that’s how Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology graduate Sandra Perez described her experience at a recent leadership summit at Hazeltine National Golf Course in Chaska, Minnesota, last week.

There Perez, along with a handful of other recipients of the KPMG Future Leaders Scholarship, met several LPGA Tour pros and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a leadership summit.

Perez and her colleagues were the stars of the summit. The KPMG Future Leaders Scholarship is granted to just 20 graduating seniors in the country. The package includes a $40,000 scholarship, pairing with a mentor for one year and acceptance to a three-day KPMG Future Leaders Retreat at Stanford University on July 14.

Meeting Rice, a Stanford faculty member, was an added bonus.

“It was really cool just to see a woman who’s accomplished so much and it’s crazy that she wants to help us,” Perez said. “She thought we were inspiring to her. Everyone is treating us like we’re the big deal, and I’m like, ‘We haven’t even done anything yet.’”

In a video, Perez and some of her program colleagues shared their inspirational stories to guests. Perez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her father was supportive growing up, but also struggled with alcoholism. After several run-in with law enforcement, he was deported to Mexico. That was just as Perez was starting high school.

Perez said she’s had to adjust to living life missing him. She said he was still struggling with alcohol abuse when she visited him in Mexico roughly two years ago. The solidarity between her and her peers, though, was comforting.

“The other two girls have their own stories,” she said. “It really helps you feel like you’re not alone. There are so many leaders that want to support you.”

Perez has proven her mental fortitude since earning not only the KPMG scholarship but also the Horatio Alger National Scholarship.

Rice joined Perez and two other program members on a panel where they answered questions between rounds of the LPGA Championship. A major focus of the summit was on golf and how it can serve as a tool in the business world. Rice, along with her distinguished professional credentials, makes a natural fit as a guest for a golf-centric leadership conference as one of the first women to be admitted into the Augusta National Golf Club.

Perez was paired with mentor Gabby Lopez, a 25-year-old Mexican professional golfer. Perez said the organization matched her with mentors that they shared commonalities with. Perez said she had breakfast with Lopez and the two bonded over their Latina roots.

“That was literally crazy, but it was so casual too,” Perez said. “We were just chit-chatting.”

There was some initial anxiety about the trip though. Perez knew she would be playing golf with her mentor during the trip, and she only picked up the sport one month ago.

“I told my C5 program director I didn’t know anything about golf and she said we have to get you prepared,” Perez said. “She invited me to go out and play. … I’m really inspired to continue playing golf.”

Perez plans to study business marketing at Georgia State University.

Taylor Denman is a reporter born and raised in Gwinnett County. He came back home to seize the rare opportunity of telling stories in the county he grew up in.