John Ortiz is a first year social worker at Brookline High School. Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Ortiz enjoys most sports-related activities, old-school hip hop and watching the Yankees.
What was your education experience like?
I ended up not going to school for three years in a row because I had too many distracting stressors outside of school, including inside my house and in my neighborhood. So I found myself being 19 in the 10th grade, and I said, “Even if I do school until I graduate, I would be graduating at 22.” So I dropped out of high school and got my General Education Degree (GED). I worked from about 19 – 25 and I tried to stay low, away from the conflict in my neighborhood. At around 23, I met my wife and the conflict was dying down. I eventually got motivated by my wife, because I’d think, “She’s already a college grad and I only have my GED, if I’m going to stay with this woman I have to step my game up.” So I went back to school. From there I wound up getting my master’s when I was 32. It took me about six or seven years. At that point the conflict had died down and my head was clear.
Did you do any extracurricular activities during high school?
I was supposed to be a baseball player. I was really good; I played multiple positions. I played against top quality people that have actually retired from the league already, like Frank Rodriguez and Julio Lugo. But I just had all those barriers that were preventing me from being able to concentrate on school. I was great on the baseball field, but then I was acting all crazy in school because I had all this stuff inside me that I needed to get out, and I wasn’t getting it out in a healthy manner.
Did the struggles you went through as a child influence your decision to become a social worker?
Baseball was the first dream, and architecture with a minor in interior design was my other plan. But not going to school or having a consistent academic career threw both those dreams off. Social work was something I came to because people had always called me a good listener, and I made people feel comfortable. I would often hear, “You’re the only person I’ve ever told this to.” So, little by little, I narrowed down my options. I decided that I wanted to help kids that are lost, and kids that are thrown off their projected path, because I was that kid.
What does it feel like to talk to kids that you see your younger self in?
I feel honored to be able to do it. I can look back at who I was, but also look forward through a young person. When I see a young person going through it and feeling like nobody is listening, that’s where I get particularly passionate and really want to help.
If you had to give one message to the student population, what would it be?
Make sure your voice is heard and you speak what you feel, so you can always walk away with a clear head and heart. A lot of times we don’t talk about the things we feel we need to and feel dissatisfied, and life is too short for that. You can’t go wrong if you speak your truth.