The Gap Decade
Joey Velazquez left Georgia State in 2000 with a grade point average under 1 point. He worked in the movies and even sold a screenplay, but came back to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. He’ll graduate this year summa cum laude from the Honors College and will head to law school in the fall.
written by Ray Glier | photography by Carolyn Richardson | published on March 30, 2017
Joey Velazquez wanted to come back to college and you know what that means for most students looking for a do-over. A reckoning. Most students do not leave college early riding a wave of superb grades. They leave with a report card that is such a hot mess it can start a dumpster fire.
When Velazquez decided he wanted to come back to Georgia State after 13 years somebody should have warned the admissions office counselor to cover her eyes when she started searching for the younger Joey’s grade point average. Velazquez stood on the other side of the counter in Sparks Hall from the counselor as she called up his records from the 1999-2000 academic year. It was July 2013 and Velazquez was 32 years old.
She didn’t quite gasp when the screen with his GPA opened. It was more like “oh” and a slight recoil.
She smiled. He smiled. There, they got the embarrassment out of the way.
“I remember I didn’t leave in good standing,” Velazquez said. “But I didn’t know it was that bad.
“I didn’t know if they would let me come back.”
Georgia State allowed him to come back, on probation, of course.
Four years later Velazquez has a 3.88 GPA. He’s in the Honors College, he’s been on the Dean’s and President’s lists, he’s vice president of the pre-law club and president of mock trial. Velazquez worked in the state legislature for two years, one of those years as a senior aide to a powerful senator.
Velazquez was a 2016 nominee for the Truman Scholarship. He expects to add a couple of ‘A’ grades to his report card and take the GPA up to 3.9 and graduate summa cum laude by the time he finishes undergraduate work July 28. Next fall he’ll be starting his first semester of law school.
“I owe this school a lot,” Velazquez said.
They say some high school students need a gap year to figure out what they really want to do, or at least a year to mature so they can handle college. How about a gap decade?
Velazquez, who was 17 when he first enrolled at Georgia State in 1998, dragged that 0.98 around like a ball-and-chain, but he had other things on his mind. Velazquez, like a lot of other kids, just had other ambitions, like film work, and his mind drifted off in classes as a 17-year-old.
So after he dropped out of Georgia State, Velazquez went to the New York Film Academy for a 10-week course in film study. Then he went to Los Angeles for six years, including two years in the Film Immersion Program and Feature Film Development Program. He also spent a year in South Korea teaching English and writing.
When he was 21, Velazquez sold the first of several screenplays he’s written. It was called “That Darn Bear” and you can still see it on various streaming services renamed as “Going Down.”
Since, Velazquez has sold a handful of screenplays and he’s still a screenwriter-for-hire. He’s currently editing a film he wrote and directed titled “They Swim!” It’s a love story/musical/comedy about kids on holiday in north Georgia who come face to face with zombies — the undead inhabitants of the land under Lake Lanier before it was flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Here is what Joey’s gap decade revealed to him. Film is a hobby, not a career. So he came back to Georgia State in 2013, basically to start over in college, with the goal of being a lawyer.
“I’m older, coming back with a different purpose and a different mindset,” said Velazquez, who will finish with a degree in the political science pre-law track. “You know, it did stick in my craw that I left on such bad terms. And I’ve done very well since I came back.”
His first lesson was this: when you leave college with an 0.98, guess what, it’s there waiting for you when you get back.
His second lesson is for other 17-year-old’s unsure of their future.
“Absolutely I would recommend a gap year,” he said.
When he returned, Velazquez took advantage of the Academic Renewal program where if you are gone seven years anything less than a ‘C’ the school will wipe from your transcript provided you replace that credit.
There have been all kinds of time warp moments. Dr. Michael Evans, a lecturer in the Political Science Department, mock trial adviser and the teacher Velazquez is closest with, is only four years older than him. Velazquez walks by classrooms where he earned every bit of an ‘F.’ But those bumps from 17 years ago never throw him off.
“I’m back in Kell (Hall) taking astronomy again, a class I failed,” he said. “This is actually a really fun class.”
What is that famous line from the movies? “You may try and forget the past, but the past does not forget you.” Velazquez skirts right by the distressed academic past and immerses himself in the new fun.
For him, Georgia State is a get down, get dirty kind of place where intellect meets grit and you combine the two and get somebody ready for the outside world. Velazquez just had it inside out for 13 years. He did outside world first and then came back for the polish.
Velazquez has even more motivation to get to law school and become a lawyer. His grandmother was a year away from a law degree in Cuba when Fidel Castro came to power. She fled the country and never became a lawyer.
In 2015, he studied abroad in Cuba, the first time a member of his family had been there in almost 50 years.
“Like I said, I owe this place a lot,” said Velazquez, who is fluent in Spanish. “It’s all there if you look for it. You have to go after it. There is so much stuff going on on this campus, but you don’t know it. You walk right by a building and go ‘Oh, we own this building.’
“You have to seek it out. This place gives you every opportunity to fix yourself.”