A servant Boilermaker who lives on in others
He majored in electrical engineering technology but through his dedication and impact to Latinx communities, he may as well have added a major in community service.
Wilson Usedo, a Connecticut Yankee with Peruvian heritage, entered Purdue on scholarship in 2005, but didn’t graduate until 2015. He was 26. During the 10 years on campus, he juggled full-time classes with full-time employment, enrolling for all but two of the 20 semesters. An equal measure of time was spent volunteering, especially for the Latinx community.
He mentored new students at Purdue and teens at Lafayette Jefferson High School. He “virtually lived" at the Latino Cultural Center. He spent nights at the Lafayette Urban Ministry’s homeless shelter and taught English at the Lafayette Adult Resource Academy. Wilson was active with the Minority Engineering Program and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, served as vice president of the Latino Student Union and helped form the Latino Student Council.
His brother, Edward, said Wilson, also known to family and friends as Sami, treated everyone like family, inviting people to stay at his Connecticut home or on his West Lafayette couch, taking to heart “love thy neighbor.”
“He did that with everyone he met,” Edward Usedo said. “He had a way of making you feel welcome and comfortable. He would approach you and treat you as if he had known you for years.”
It is said Wilson had the kind of passion that made you strive harder. He never quit. He was committed to connecting students to resources, creating a sense a belonging at Purdue and a home away from home at the LCC. He could make you laugh.
When he graduated, his service was recognized with the Latino Cultural Center’s annual Sí Se Puede Award. Sadly, only a few months later, we lost Wilson when he was involved in a fatal car crash on I-65. Before the next year’s graduation and award ceremony rolled around, the LCC's highest award was renamed in his honor and is now offically known as the Wilson Usedo Sí Se Puede Award.
“Wilson was seemingly part of the furniture at the LCC, constantly brainstorming and thinking of ways to make an already great place even better for serving the Latinx community,” recalled his classmate Beatriz Pacheco. He was often the first one to arrive and the last one to leave the LCC.”
“If the Jeff students did not have the money to participate in events, he would offer to pay for them. Wilson would even hold study tables for us. He taught me to fight for what I believe in even when others do not agree. I honestly don’t know where I would be without him. He taught me so much about myself.”
Gaytán graduated two years before Wilson, with a degree in political science, and now works in compliance with the Indiana Charter School Board. When she heard of his death, she led the drive to name the award in his honor, using Facebook to create a virtual petition.
“We not only wanted to maintain his legacy but also remind everyone that there is a heart for service like his beating inside many other students at Purdue,” Gaytán said.
Last spring, the Wilson Usedo Sí Se Puede Award went to Tiffany Montoya for her commitment to social justice. That year, Tiffany earned her doctorate in Philosophy. Among her many efforts, she helped found the Purdue Social Justice Coalition, which served as a network of communication and solidarity for all social justice oriented organizations on campus and in the community. At the LCC, she led El Chisme, an intimate dialogue among students about taboo topics in Latinx communities, and she created the Graduate Truth Series for undergraduate students to learn about graduate school. This fall, Montoya is a visiting assistant professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. Wilson's legacy lives on in alumni like Dr. Montoya.
Wilson’s name also lives on in his two nephews named for him, Wilson and Leonardo Samuel “Sami.”
“He was actually the first one to hold my son,” Edward said. “And I have never seen him so proud. Not so much that he had a nephew, but that another young life had entered into this world. He always had a passion for guiding the youth and praying that the youth would take charge of the future for the better.”
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