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Thursday, July 27, 2017 - 12:15pm

At Community School 55 in the Bronx last June, the fifth-graders stood proudly as their principal, Luis Torres, MSEd ’98, solemnly shook each little hand with words of encouragement. Although it marked his 12th moving-up ceremony since taking the helm of the school, the pride in his “little Tigers” never fades.

Recalling his own childhood in the Bronx, he said, “I saw a lot of people lost to the streets, and I wanted to teach kids to start dreaming early.”

Ironically, that determination to be a positive force in elementary education was sparked when Torres himself was a student at Adlai Stevenson High School, a troubled public school that closed in 2009. A guidance counselor advised him to join the military because “in her opinion, I was not suitable college material,” Torres recalled. “I love my country and was proud to serve. But being told that I wasn’t fit for anything else felt devastating.”

Torres served 10 years in the U.S. Navy, mostly stationed in the Bronx except for his Desert Storm training. He became unstoppable in his quest to learn more about shaping young lives through education. By the time he landed his first teaching job at MS 52 in the Bronx, he knew he’d found his true calling.

Torres learned about Mercy College from a friend and was immediately drawn to Mercy’s unique program for a master’s in education with a technology concentration. “Most colleges didn’t see technology as the future of education, but Mercy did,” he said. “Mercy helped me find my niche. I’ll always be grateful for that support.”

When Torres took over CS 55 as principal in 2005, he faced a daunting challenge. “Most of our students lived in shelters, foster homes or the projects,” said Torres, who felt impelled to work harder on their behalf. “In 2011, when the ASCD [a national professional association for educators] gave me the Outstanding Young Educator Award, CS 55 was still failing,” he said. “The ASCD recognized all we were doing to turn that around.”

Today Torres, 47, his wife Joan and their three children live in the Classon Point section of the Bronx, not far from where he has spent most of his life, inspiring young people toward better lives—and where the misguided advice of a guidance counselor goaded him into recognizing his passion and seizing his future.