People and Community University

Pitbull motivates students to ‘turn a negative into a positive’

As part of the Student Government’s What Matters To U speaker series, Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and record producer Pitbull encouraged students to work hard, take risks, and “live for the moment” at Tuesday evening’s event.
Grammy Award winning musical artist Pitbull spoke at the University of Miami during Student Government's What Matters to U speaker series. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

Entertainer Pitbull was the featured speaker at Student Government's What Matters to U event, held at the Watsco Center on March 29. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami


Struggling to stay in school and find his way as a budding musician, all Armando Christian Perez, also known as Pitbull, needed in life was one thing—a little bit of “hope.”

And when Hope Martinez, Pitbull's high school theater teacher and an alumna of the University of Miami, invited her student to partake in a music video shoot in Miami, the future Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and record producer found a way to get his foot in the door.  

Martinez saw in him a young man, intelligent and talented, and she believed she was meant to be there for him, to offer him an opportunity. 

On Tuesday evening, Martinez’s motivation that helped catapult the international, world-renowned entertainer to stardom was shared with an audience of about 2,000 students at the Watsco Center as Pitbull recounted the anecdote during an inspiring and motivational dialogue as part of the Student Government’s signature event, What Matters To U. 

Students attend the What Matters to U event

“When you're 17, you think you know it all. You don't,’’ Pitbull said. “All it took was Hope believing in me, believing in my talent more than I did. That shows how powerful it is to have one person believe in you.’’ 

Moderated by Matthew Calle, a senior majoring in music therapy, and Serona Elton, professor and director of the music industry program, the What Matters To U event presented questions to Pitbull who made sure to engage the audience while peppering his answers with motivational quotes. 

Pitbull, a Miami native and the son of Cuban immigrants, recounted his parents’ journey and tremendous sacrifice to the United States in search of providing him the opportunity to succeed.  

“Freedom isn't free, but it's priceless,’’ he said. "My family would always tell me, ‘You were already born in the United States of America. I gave you the best gift I could ever give you.’ I needed to take full advantage of it.’’ 

Still, early on, Pitbull struggled to stay on a path to success. Overcoming the challenges of growing up in the 305, his passion for rapping and music and the opportunity created by Martinez led to his break in the tough industry. With more than 6 million albums sold and 70 million singles worldwide in more than 15 countries, Pitbull has also released songs that quickly hit No. 1. 

“I realized that I need to be making music that speaks to you whether you know the language or not,” he said. “I had to find music that was global, that was timeless.”  

Capitalizing on his success as a musician, Pitbull also focuses his time on philanthropic efforts in Miami and in the Cuban community. He encouraged the audience to do the same because “living is giving.’’ 

“Appreciate the fact that you are able to do something with your life that others weren’t able to do,” he added. “The more you give, the more you receive.” 

Donning bald caps and sunglasses to imitate the superstar's signature look, students flocked to the Watsco Center on Tuesday evening, lining up as early as two hours before the event’s start to catch a front-row glimpse of the superstar. 

Mikeiveka Sanon, a senior from Miami studying business technology and marketing, attended the event hoping to catch a glimpse of her hometown hero. 

“It was great to hear more about how he grew up, especially how his teachers have greatly influenced him,’’ Sanon said. “It just goes to show how having people supporting you impacts you.’’ 

To meet the high demand of student interest, the What Matters To U planning agency, with the support of the Division of Student Affairs, relocated the event to the Watsco Center. This was the largest What Matters To U event since the speaking series began in 2019, said Meera Patel, chair of What Matters To U. Pitbull's words of encouragement also resonated with her. 

“Learning from mistakes, or ‘mustakes’ as Pitbull said, is essential to getting to that next step in life, and of course, letting is all about living in the moment,” Patel added. 

And despite his moniker as “Mr. Worldwide,” Pitbull reiterated to the crowd one thing—that living in Miami is a blessing. 

“It’s remarkable to be here at the U today. Being from the 305, we’ve all got that underdog spirit. There’s no way I’d be who I am if it wasn’t for Miami,” he said. “It gives me that chip on my shoulder.”