“If I’m at a position where I can give more to BHSEC, I would do everything for the school because BHSEC was that one pivot in my life that I needed.” Johnny Garces is a 2005 graduate of BHSEC Manhattan and a graduate of Middlebury College, where he majored in philosophy. After his undergraduate years, Garces entered the Peace Corps and served in Jordan.
When Garces arrived at BHSEC, he noticed great similarities and stark differences between BHSEC and his former middle school, William Cooper IS 73. The diversity at BHSEC mirrored that of his middle school, “there were kids from every walk of life and ethnicity in the huge building that was my middle school, and I got to experience that same diversity at BHSEC at a much smaller and intimate scale.” As for the differences, Garces considers the schools light-years away in terms of academics. “Before BHSEC my learning was very passive—rote memorization. You read something, you highlight the text, and then you write about it. However, at BHSEC, you really engage with the text.”
As a freshman at BHSEC, Garces recognized that BHSEC was different. “I kept hearing the year one students talk about Nietzsche, calculus … they talked about how much they had to work and how much they learned. I realized that I was in for a really interesting three years.”
After graduating from Middlebury in 2009, Garces entered the Peace Corps. “My decision to join the Peace Corps was a leap of faith. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Prior to joining, I had interned at a large profitable company, a safe zone. I could have used that opportunity to pursue a full-time job, but I decided to take a different path, a path that really spoke to me.”
Garces devoted three years to engaging Jordanian youth. “My goal was to ensure employment opportunities for the youth.” He had to find new, productive, and exciting ways to engage them. “I noticed that the students loved taking pictures and videos, so I wanted to transform their interests into something productive. I applied for funding to start a film academy.”
Garces did not let naysayers detract him from his goal. “I figured, we’ll make this work one way or another.” Having limited experience with film, Garces independently researched and studied the subject and eventually developed a unique curriculum from scratch. With funding from USAID, the program became a sustainable success that is running to this day. The program was so successful that Sundance even visited the schools.
What is Garces doing now? He’s working at a tech startup that is breaking down language barriers. With three languages other than English under his belt—Spanish, French, and Arabic—it seems like the right fit.