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Supporting a Hero’s Intellectual Journey

By UM News

Supporting a Hero’s Intellectual Journey

By UM News
Religious Studies Professor David Graf Makes a Special Connection with Wounded Veteran and 2014 Grad Felix Perez

After nearly 30 years of teaching in the Department of Religious Studies in the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences, Professor David Graf knows how great the return can be for investing time in a special student.

An internationally known scholar whose work focuses on the history and archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East, last semester Graf taught a high-level course on developments in the Mediterranean between 27 BCE and 68 CE.

Professor Graf beneath the amphitheatre at Capua, Italy, where
Spartacus led his gladiatorial revolt.

One student in the course, Felix Perez, was intimately familiar with the area. He served in the military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was seriously wounded. Perez is now confined to a wheelchair and unable to use his arms or legs.

Graf said Perez initially struggled in the class, turning in papers that were not up to Graf’s exacting standards.

Instead of urging Perez to drop the course, however, the professor pushed him to work harder. He would only give a passing grade if Perez reread all the assignments – works by ancient Roman thinkers such as Tacitus and Dio Cassius – and rewrote all his papers.

“I provided my critical comments and editing, and he rewrote the papers in excellent fashion,” Graf said. “I could not be more pleased.”

Graf noted that the military urged Perez not to exercise his educational benefits, although he “was clearly intelligent and had a good mind” that should be “developed intellectually.”

Perez also appreciated Graf’s encouragement. In an email to his professor, he wrote: “I am glad that you forced me to continue your class and work my way through the issues with your assistance, a task I used to accomplish all the time while walking yet find difficult in my present situation. I appreciate you reminding me that ‘quit’ is not in my vocabulary.”

Perez added, “I truly don’t even know how to begin to express my gratitude for the manner in which you have aided me.”

He called Graf’s class “extremely thought provoking and engaging,” adding, “Dr. Graf knows the subject matter inside out. He is truly a master of his craft. He teaches with passion and satisfaction at all times.”

The admiration is mutual.

Graf said, “I am honored to know (Felix) and to have had him in class. He was an inspiration to the other students. He makes it worthwhile for me to be in the trenches.”

Perez’s email signature says it all. He quotes the late actor Christopher Reeve, from his book, Nothing is Impossible: “At first, dreams seem impossible, then improbable, and eventually inevitable.”