Fresh Start Leads to Newfound Academic Drive
April 27, 2023
When reflecting on his academic career two weeks before graduating from UNC, Business major Dante Cesare experienced two vastly different realities in high school and in college. In high school, personal hardships made it difficult for him to see the importance of education.
“I was the worst kind of student,” Cesare said. “I really didn’t care about school, I just wanted to get out of there. I was facing addiction issues.”
Cesare said, during this time, he never felt a sense of belonging.
“I am on the autism spectrum and have struggled with mental illness all of my life, so people never counted on me for anything, they always counted me out, so to speak,” Cesare said.
He had and still does have, support from his family, even crediting his aunt, uncle and grandparents for raising him alongside his mom.
“The phrase ‘it takes a village’ may be cliché, but in my case, it is the truth, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Cesare said. “My upbringing helped make me the man I am today."
Cesare said his grandfather, who worked in construction his whole life, taught him that knowledge is power and that no one can take it away from him. But it was the encouragement of multiple professors that really turned Cesare’s education experience around. Cesare first attended Aims Community College receiving his associate degree in Business before attending UNC for his bachelor’s degree.
“I had a couple teachers at Aims named Mark Jarnot and Jennifer Markiewicz. They were probably two of the most important mentors or teachers I've ever had besides Dallas Everhart here at UNC,” Cesare said. “Basically, they all believed in me and were able to help me fall in love with education again.”
With a newfound passion for learning the next step was for Cesare to find a community or an opportunity to be part of a team amongst his peers. He knew he didn’t want to feel isolated like he did in high school, so he had to find a way to get involved at UNC, which he did through Monfort College of Business’ Entrepreneurial Challenge.
“I was in a Marketing 360 class my junior year, and two students started talking to us about the E-Challenge and why we should get involved,” Cesare said. “I found it interesting because I have always wanted to open a business or be a good businessman. But mainly, I just really wanted to be part of something.”
The E-Challenge, held every year in the spring, is an educational business pitch competition that helps participants acquire entrepreneurial skills and grow their innovative ideas. Students from UNC and Aims, as well as community members can compete and pitch their business ideas to industry judges for the chance to win monetary prizes.
Cesare quickly signed up to be part of the E-Challenge marketing team after hearing about it. The first year he was involved he wrote press releases and social media content to promote the event. This year he was bumped up to community college director, collaborating with Aims to encourage more participation.
“Since I originally came from Aims, I was able to foster a really good relationship with the staff there and resolve any conflicts and build a really amicable relationship, so I’m really proud of that,” Cesare said.
Cesare also took on the responsibility of being an MCB ambassador. He says knowing MCB’s reputation made him want to continue in higher education.
“I thought the student-to-teacher ratio would fit me really well,” Cesare said. “I really like to be able to have a relationship with my professors and throughout my time [at UNC] I’ve felt I have a good rapport with my professors and can actually joke with them.”
Feeling supported by faculty along with hands-on experience in coming up with marketing plans for local businesses throughout his courses, Cesare developed a passion for the industry and hopes to start a career in marketing after graduation.
“I want to move to Las Vegas and do relationship marketing for a casino,” Cesare said. “I want to be able to foster different relationships when it comes to the stakeholders and the customers and make sure we’re providing something unique for them to return to the business for.”
The desire to build professional relationships came from Cesare’s understanding of how fulfilling it is to have them, which he learned from his experiences in both high school and college. He has found that when he is connecting with others and persistently striving towards his goals, is when he is happiest.
“I would strongly advise future or current students to get involved,” Cesare said. “Find something you're passionate about and really make it your own. Because life is really difficult, try to make a positive out of anything negative. It’s not about what cards you are dealt, it’s about what you do with the cards.”
Cesare is the recipient of the Monfort College of Business Award and a Wells Fargo Bank Scholarship.
– written by Sydney Kern
More Spring 2023 Graduate Stories:
First-generation Nursing major Rosemary Gonzalez knew attending college without her parents fully understanding all the steps it takes to get there would create some obstacles and adversities. Facing those is when she realized that for her to be successful in higher education, she needed to find a new support system.
Jerry Guzman, a Sociology major, was raised by non-native English speaking parents who did not attend college. They emphasized the significance of education and hard work in the classroom, which has influenced Guzman’s values today.
As a first-generation, multilingual, graduating senior from Haiti, J.P. Gaspard’s accomplishment of earning his Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education is no small feat – and he has no plans to take a break from overcoming obstacles now.
For Nikaiya Lawson, an Art and Design student graduating from UNC this spring, art is a safe place. After a suicide attempt at age 14, it has been the space where she finds meaning and can freely express her identity without limits.
Education major Dakota Baer's goal was to graduate with no student loan debt. She was on track to meet this goal until her last semester when she had to student teach full-time without being paid.