Incoming First-Year Winston Perez Ventura Dies in Tragic Gorge Accident

student working in studio at a desk with glue and cardboard models

Winston Perez Ventura, working in studio during the prefreshman summer program. William Staffeld / AAP

August 7, 2017

Winston Samuel Perez Ventura, an incoming first-year in the bachelor of architecture class of 2022, died Saturday afternoon while swimming in Fall Creek. He was from the Bronx, New York, and was 17 years old.

Perez Ventura was born in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to the United States at the age of nine to join his mother who had moved to New York City five years earlier to get established and create a home for her son. In 2013, he became a member of the first freshman class at the new Democracy Prep Harlem High School. In December 2016, surrounded by his classmates, teachers, and mother, Perez Ventura's early decision acceptance into AAP was captured on a video that went viral on social media. His story was picked up by ABC News, who ran a piece on him.

In addition to being a strong scholar, while at Democracy Prep Perez Ventura was also active in The Fellowship Initiative, a comprehensive enrichment program designed to expand opportunities for young men of color. He traveled to South Africa with this group last year.

"At the risk of making admissions sound overly romanticized, there are some students you just have a feeling about," says Maureen Carroll, director of admissions for AAP, "that this is one stop on their ultimate path to individual greatness. They are unquantifiably special. Winston was one of them."

Perez Ventura had just completed the Prefreshman Summer Program (PSP) and was due to begin his studies in AAP this fall semester. Although he had only spent six weeks as a Cornellian, he made an indelible impact on those he met.

"Winston was known throughout the architecture studio and PSP for his genuine kindness, outgoing personality, enthusiasm for architecture, and smile that lit up the room," says Andrea Kiely, assistant director of admissions and academic services. “He was a gentleman who inspired respect among his peers for his musical talents and work ethic. He was a good friend and an inspiration to a lot of students in PSP because he was so friendly, kind, and talented.”

"Winston was the face of the summer class — always beaming," adds Luben Dimcheff, Richard Meier Assistant Professor of Architecture and coleader of the Introduction to Architecture Summer program. "He had a hand-written note at his desk that read, 'All I can be is myself, but better than I was yesterday.' As his teacher, I would push him daily — I wanted him to be the best . . . only he already was: caring, curious, and courageous. He would spring up to offer his seat at any time, he would ask the most profound questions and in the same breath answer them himself with no fear of judgment, and every time I posed a challenge, Winston would respond 'Oh yes — I can, and I will!'"

"It is very hard to process this tragic loss," says Kent Kleinman, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of AAP. "Winston made an enormous impression on so many who interacted with him during the application process and while he was on campus. He credited his family for much of his drive and success, but this young man had a generosity of spirit and graciousness of habit that are rare."

A memorial service will be held on campus on Tuesday in Sage Chapel at 4:30 p.m. Summer college students are invited to send condolences or share a memory that will be included in a memorial book that will be given to Perez Ventura's family. Email with submissions.

Support services are available to all members of the Cornell community. Students may consult with counselors from Gannett Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling (607) 255-5155. Students may speak with a peer counselor by calling EARS at (607) 255-3277.

Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program at (607) 255-2673. The Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at (607) 272-1616. For additional resources visit Cornell's Caring Community website.

Cornell University promotes the safe use of natural areas on and around campus and works in collaboration with local agencies and volunteers to educate visitors on how to enjoy them safely. For more details, visit the Gorge Safety website.

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