Personal transformation. It doesn’t happen with the wave of a wand. It is a process that must be chosen.
Juan Picart was a classic case of a person who said, “Yes!” to the possibility of encountering hope at Nyack College. Nyack happily welcomed him with open arms a dozen years ago. With sadness, news of Juan’s passing this week was received by members of the campus community who recall the 2007 graduate’s gripping story.
His life was an illustration of the difference that the mentoring care of a professor can make in a student’s life—even one who was 53 years old when he completed his music degree with a concentration in voice at Nyack’s School of Music.
When Juan joined the United States Army in 1969, he was underage, but was not scrutinized because of the demand for soldiers. He joined the 82nd Airborne and trained for the Green Beret Special Services. After nine and a half months running missions in Vietnam, he spent the following year and a half as a POW. When he returned home in 1972, he fell into a life of drug addiction and eventually, homelessness.
But Juan had an encounter with Jesus at a Bible study in a New York shelter and began to attend church. There he found his gift of music during corporate worship. With a restored life and a love for Jesus, Juan went on to perform at Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Center and Carnegie Hall.
Faculty who befriended Juan including music professor Dr. Dana Talley commented, “If there were to be one person who changed the life of the School of Music and all who met him at Nyack College, it was Juan Picart.”
“God and God Alone” is the song and the sentiment that School of Education professor Prof. Miriam Velez thinks of when she reflects on Juan Picart. (Juan was the soloist on this song in Puerto Rico when the Nyack Chorale performed there.) She says “God alone was responsible for saving Juan when, as a young teenager, he ran away from an orphanage to join the U.S. Army. God’s hand was upon Juan when later he was incarcerated in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” with the late Senator John McCain. A courageous human being, Juan suffered greatly for several years as a prisoner and afterwards, when, as many Vietnam vets in those days, he was received—not with the thanks of a grateful country for serving—but with some disfavor. He reacted by joining the ranks of the homeless until God found him and brought him to a church in Queens, where he met Pastor Carlos Velez.”
According to Prof. Velez, “Pastor Carlos encouraged Juan to train his beautiful voice and brought him, one memorable day, to the Nyack campus then located at 361 Broadway in Manhattan. He sang, “The Holy City,” which was the beginning of his ‘happiest times,’ when he was studying and performing at Nyack College.
Prof. Velez shares, “Juan often saw students who needed a steer in the right direction and offered them a helping hand, many of whom were homeless as he had once been. His love for learning and for the Nyack community was very strong. Anyone who knew him will tell you a unique story about this very earnest Christian man whose life was indeed about God and God alone.”
Personal transformation is in the DNA of Nyack College and Nyack’s DNA becomes a part of Nyack students like Juan Picart who heed the words of Romans 12:1-2.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” (The Message)