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Dean’s Award ’22 – A&L: Drawing helped Scott Azevedo overcome a difficult childhood and adult setbacks to earn his college degrees

Scott Azevedo found a home at Sacramento State, where he immersed himself in art and found a place of "passion." (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Drawing was his escape.

Escape from an absentee, alcoholic father. Escape from a mother who punished him for his dark skin and his identity, and who ultimately kicked him out of the house at age 17 for wanting to live as openly gay.

Scott Azevedo remembers doodling all throughout school, often neglecting his studies and daydreaming about being an artist.

“I struggled in school because I was a dreamer, and because I would float away, but looking back now I think that was a coping mechanism,” he said. “That naiveté is what got me through, and it still does.”

He pushed through the trauma of homelessness, homophobic abuse, and the feeling he constantly had to remind society he mattered. Azevedo is graduating from Sacramento State with bachelor’s degrees in Art History and in Painting. For his academic excellence, he will receive the Dean’s Award for the College of Arts and Letters, an honor reserved for the college’s top graduating student.

Seven students, one from each academic college, will be recognized as Dean’s Award winners during Commencement ceremonies May 20-22.

“That was pretty powerful, to share my story with my classmates, and I think that helped. All the love that I received, that helped heal me.” - Scott Azevedo

Azevedo’s path to not just one but two Sacramento State degrees was anything but straightforward. He began the journey multiple times at multiple institutions only to hit setbacks because of a lack of support. As a first-year student at another university in 2002, he was chastised for giving a speech promoting gay rights. Years later, Azevedo said, a professor told him to drop out because he was too old. He recalled that he repeatedly encountered a lack of passion and, most importantly, empathy.

Ultimately, he hit rock bottom, squatting in an empty house and unemployed after being fired for reporting a coworker for directing a homophobic slur at him. Something led him to spend all his remaining money on paint.

Whatever the inspiration, that investment led to a rejuvenation. Azevedo painted landscapes for a Sonoma County wine-tasting room, selling $10,000 worth of art in just three weeks – and reminding himself of his own talents and capabilities.

He enrolled at Sac State in 2020 and found professors who exhibited the passion he sought and supported him as both an artist and a person.

“When I decided to come to Sac State, I didn't say, ‘Oh, Sac State is going to have more passion.’ But it did in my experience, and so I feel fortunate to have made that move,” Azevedo said.

His two years at Sac State were difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic moving much instruction online – “doing studio art was not fun, virtually” – but he said the love of his faculty and fellow students “came through the computer” regardless. One professor even encouraged him to write his story and share it.

“That was pretty powerful, to share my story with my classmates, and I think that helped,” Azevedo said. “All the love that I received, that helped heal me.”

Azevedo said he learned how to be a better artist at Sac State, and one who is open to all perspectives and ensures “there’s room at the table for everyone.”

Scott Azevedo's painting "As the World Falls Down"
Scott Azevedo's painting "As the World Falls Down" will be on display in the University Union Gallery as part of the gallery's permanent collection. (Courtesy Scott Azevedo)

His own art tackles issues such as racism and colonialism, challenges that, as a gay Latino man, he has experienced directly as part of a culture in which, he says, homophobia and colorism are common. His self-portrait, “Gay Latino Son,” is an example. In the painting, a young boy sits on a blow-up mattress, flying through a flurry of hands that are either helping or hurting him. A mother figure is present, as is a black lace cloth, representing both colonialism and a baby blanket.

“I try not to make things so dark,” Azevedo said. “It's hard not to, because the story can be a little dark. So I try to put some hope in there.”

Another of his paintings,  “As the World Falls Down,” soon will be on display in the University Union Gallery, acquired by the Union through the annual Student Purchase Awards. Though the final price was more, he originally listed it for a penny. “I would have taken the penny,” he said, because it was his gift to thank the University for the transformative experience it had given him.

After graduation, Azevedo will pursue his  Master of Fine Arts.

In her letter nominating him for the award, Arts and Letters Dean Sheree Meyer wrote that Azevedo “genuinely represents the values and priorities of our college.”

“Furthermore, his story is a powerful one of overcoming great adversities and having the courage to pursue his dream of becoming an artist and scholar,” Meyer said. “The mission of the College of Arts and Letters is to ‘(engage) faculty, staff, and students in the creation and study of what makes us human and what humans make.’ Clearly, Mr. Azevedo represents that mission fully.”

2022 Deans' Awards

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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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