Antonio Duran | The Optimist

“Hey sweetie,” he said, exclaiming.

CAS senior Antonio Duran greeted every resident assistant with his catchphrase as they stepped through the double doors into a meeting for the National Residence Hall Honorary. With eyes focused and wide open, he stopped a resident to ask about the test he took last week. He greeted another girl with a question about her parent’s visit she mentioned the other day.

“When you tell someone a story, they’ll listen,” said Brian Plaut, a fellow resident assistant at Founders residence hall. “But Antonio listens, cares, follows up. To some people it will come across as fake and condescending. But he genuinely cares, and it’s refreshing.”

Raised in a poor neighborhood, Duran’s mother worked three jobs when he was little, including an early morning newspaper delivery route. While she worked, a beloved school teacher drove him to elementary school most mornings. He looked up to many mentors, and each wanted to help him because he was intelligent and hardworking.

Later, Duran received a grant that allowed him to attend a distinguished high school in his hometown of Phoenix, Ariz. Then during his senior year, Duran received a full academic scholarship from the AnBryce Scholarship Program, which provides full tuition for first-generation college students and is granted to four students in the nation. With that opportunity, he decided to attend NYU. And when he arrived, he brought memories of family members, teachers and counselors who reached out their hands to bring him here.

“It just follow[ed] that I should help other people find their place,” he said.

With that philosophy in mind, as a sophomore Duran co-founded Puzzled for Good, an organization that recruits volunteers to spend time with senior citizens and disadvantaged community members by playing games and solving puzzles. He also began working with the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, a program dedicated to improving student affairs at NYU, and tried to find any opportunity to work directly with students in various programs. He became a site leader for Alternative Breaks at the LGBTQ Student Center and an Undergraduate Mentor for the Violet Leadership Institute his senior year.

With the other AnBryce students, Duran traveled abroad on programs to mentor boys in Trinidad and Tobago at the St. Michael Home for Boys. In New York, Duran spent a couple of hours every other week mentoring seniors at Cristo Rey Brooklyn High School about the college admittance process.

During his time with the high school kids, he was reminded of his own past — the little boy who could not have attended class without the help of others. Tom Ellett, senior associate vice president of Student Affairs at NYU and one of Duran’s closest mentors, said Duran knows that not every story has a happy ending.

“He works to ensure that the stories of the people he hears have a better ending because he did intercede,” Ellett said.

Of his numerous leadership positions in clubs and committees, Duran said his favorite and most valued job was as a resident assistant at Goddard residence hall. It was, Duran said, the best chance he had to work closely with individuals he could directly affect.

Duran’s Bridging Academic and Social Experience meetings with a resident often spill over into the next, lasting longer than the typical 30-minute BASE meeting RAs offer their residents. He never missed the opportunity to host another program, be it a simple floor dinner or a gift exchange. The gratitude from his residents is evident in the countless thank you notes decorating his room.

“All of our friends who are RAs with us, they always say that he’s the perfect RA,” Plaut said.

In all that Duran does, his end goal has been more than a desire to impact others. He wants to encourage each person to achieve their best in the hopes that they, too, become influential.

To survive his constant workload, Duran has also lived by what he calls an “Antonio-ism” — to give energy, you must have energy yourself.

It is easy to see how Duran’s philosophy can trickle to others, inspiring them to appreciate and remember the little things. The next time I see an acquaintance, I will remember to ask about their weekend. And make sure to follow up with energy.

— Francisco Navas

Studio photography by Alexis Bynum, other images by Joon Lee/WSN