October 07, 2021

From a diagnosis to a new direction

young alumni

By: Mykayla Capeles

Dre Ortega has had many career paths since graduating from the University of South Carolina in 2016. 

“Everyone is going to tell you, you can’t do it, that you won’t succeed, and that you won’t make money from it. People are going to tell you to get a real job, but the real thing is that you have to do it for the passion.”

After graduation, Ortega got a job working for Continental Tire. He traveled weekly to cities over the United States and realized he didn’t want a nine-to-five career for the rest of his life. Having a love for cats and seeing many strays, he opened Catitude Cafe, a place where guests can enjoy a drink and play with cats. From the initial idea to the opening date, it took three months for Ortega to open his own Catitude Cafe in West Columbia. By the end of his second year, he helped 70 cats find homes but realized he wanted to pursue another passion: music.

“There was always music in my house,” Ortega said. “I grew up watching my father sing and play the guitar, but he was right-handed, and I was left-handed. I could never get my hands to work, so I sang along in my head.”

Neither his mother nor father spoke English fluently, so he learned English by rap songs he heard his classmates playing on the bus ride to school. After shutting down Catitude Cafe, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the music industry and opened Polar Bear Studios.

“The name Polar Bear Studios Corporate came from me being diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” Ortega said. “I needed to turn this negative situation into a positive one.”

Music was the only thing that kept Ortega calm during this period. He would listen to J. Cole’s Offseason album on replay and memorized all the lyrics. Ortega can keep his heritage in his music career by keeping his family by his side at all times. Ortega just published his first song in Spanish called, Ponlo En Repeat, meaning Put it on Replay. He has also released music with his father’s and hopes one day that his niece will be able to record guitar instrumentals when she’s older. Ortega is currently looking for more Hispanic artists to sign to Polar Bear Studios to release more Spanish music. 

For Ortega, Hispanic Heritage Month is very special because it starts on his birthday. He celebrates by doing what he always does: being an unashamed Latino.

“I can turn my Spanish music up, regardless of where I’m at,” Ortega said. “I blast it and dance to it. I will do everything I can to keep my culture and keep it alive.”

Ortega received a full-ride scholarship to the University of South Carolina from the Gamecock Guarantee Program. He was the president of his fraternity, Phi lota Alpha, and vice president of the Latin Association Student Organization (LASO). Ortega hopes he will be in the position one day to set up a scholarship for a Hispanic student at UofSC and give them a chance like the Gamecock Guarantee did for him.


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