Out of 144 total applicants, UM’s very own Jose “Pepi” Diaz, is among the seven finalists to compete for the Florida College Student of the Year Award.
This prestigious scholarship competition – founded in 1987 by Florida Leader magazine, Sun Trust Education Loans, and Office Depot – recognizes outstanding campus leaders statewide, honors those who excel academically, support themselves financially, and are involved in the community and on campus.
Diaz, 22, former student body president, and a member of six honor societies including Iron Arrow, the highest honor attainable at the University of Miami, certainly fits these requirements.
“Every single semester that I’ve been at UM I’ve been the president of something,” Diaz said.
Above all, as student body president, Diaz says he feels he has left a mark.
“Students will remember us when they need to go to Sunset Place on a Sunday or to Coconut Grove on the weekends and they can take the shuttle until 3 a.m.,” he said, “and students will always have a vote on the board of trustees.”
Silia Herrera, Chief Justice of the Student Government Supreme Court, believes that getting students a vote on the board of trustees will have an impact on the university community.
“This will be a stepping stone to making Student Government more approachable and visible to the student body,” Herrera said.
After four years of battling with the system in a long and difficult process, getting students a vote on the board of trustees is one of Diaz’s greatest accomplishments.
In 1998 Diaz was the sole creator of a charter, which enabled the Miami SEC Chapter to be the most quickly chartered Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter in history, and re-established the fraternity at UM.
Five years later, Sigma Phi Epsilon is the biggest fraternity on campus.
Also, Diaz said he is most proud of having been able to get women accepted into the order of Omega Honor Society. Since its foundation in 1959 up until 2001, no women had been accepted.
In 2001, as a member of the National Board of Directors and as president of the Alpha chapter, Diaz helped change the situation.
“I’ve always thought that if I’m going to be a part of something, I’m going to make sure that I make the biggest possible contribution that I can,” Diaz said.
Having received over 10 scholarships throughout his college life, Diaz maintains a GPA above 3.5.
“School work doesn’t challenge me,” Diaz said. “I manage my time very well and have a very good memory.”
“I find my challenges outside of the classroom,” he added.
Diaz received as many as 12 prestigious awards during his four years of college.
Some of these include the All-American Student Government Award, Outstanding Philosophy Student Award, Outstanding Achievement in Poetry, and Poet of the Year, as well as the President’s Award for Literary Excellence.
He was also named University of Miami Greek God, Sigma Phi Epsilon Big Brother of the Year, and in 1999 was a Mr. UM Finalist.
“I really don’t need this award,” Diaz said of the Florida Student Leader of the Year competition. “This is going to be more for the university than for me.”
Butch Oxendine Jr., publisher of Florida Leader magazine and also one of the judges for the Florida College Student of the Year award, agreed that this could mean a lot for Diaz personally, but it could mean a lot more for the institution.
“The school would now be known for its recognition in leadership and not only for its football team,” Oxendine said.
Oxendine explained that being named Student of the Year would attract statewide media attention for Diaz and for the school, and said that a special Student of the Year TV show is aired statewide on Sunshine Network.
“This TV show aired at least 53 times last year,” he said.
With this kind of exposure Oxendine said that Diaz can practically name where he wants to go to college next. All doors are open for him.
Diaz, however, has already made the decision to attend law school at Columbia University in New York next fall.
Thirteen honorable mention winners, and seven finalists will share more than $60,000 in scholarships and prizes.
The overall “Student of the Year” will not be named until the Awards Ceremony on April 12 in the Capitol Building in Tallahassee.
“Jose may be UM’s finest leader you’ve ever seen,” said Oxendine. “I think he’s one of the top guys”.