John D. O'Bryant High School
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
I was born and raised in Jamaica Plain alongside my mother, her boyfriend, and two sisters. We lived in a two-bedroom home, and two girls beat one guy, so I spent my nights sleeping on a couch. I never got along with my mom's boyfriend and eventually he decided it was time for me to go. I was a junior in high school and they decided to send me to live with my father-a man who I didn't know. My gut feeling told me I couldn't let this happen and instead I moved in with a friend and his father who had an extra room for me in their house to rent. But my life was forever changed and I had to support myself.
I got a job at Sears selling electronics while I was at the John D. O'Bryant high school and participating in football and track. It took a toll on me, but I had to work hard. It was then that my personality and future began to develop. I researched the products and the technology that I was responsible to sell, but it became more. I was making money-working 40 hours a week and mastering electronics. I created many new relationships and developed the ability to communicate with people. Somehow, I made things work like that for nearly two years! At the same time, I continued to work hard in school. I grinded through AP and honors classes to accumulate a 3.6 GPA, after going 2.0 my freshman year. The next step was to get into college.
Everyone at my high school-and I mean everyone who was thinking about college- was going to this place called Bottom Line. Finally, I found myself at the office partnered with Miguel as my counselor. The first thing we did was create a college list. Miguel knew my interest was in engineering and "making things happen," so he told me to consider a school called WPI. He told me it was located in a strange and faraway place called Worcester, Massachusetts. Bottom Line assisted me with getting my application done in a timely manner and writing an essay that made me realize how hard life had been. I was accepted into 6 of 8 schools, and one of my rejections was from MIT. (Someday I want to make them regret that decision.) Instead, I chose WPI; but I had one more problem. WPI costs $50,000 dollars a year and I was making $7 bucks an hour plus commission at Sears.
Despite many calls to the financial aid office by Bottom Line, I was not given the right to claim independent status. Day after day they worked to address my situation. It's kind of funny what I was told by the staff person at the WPI financial aid office. "They could not grant me independent status because my story was too hard to believe and as a professional their job was at risk making that decision." It hurts when you need help and your life is "too hard to believe," so I told her "thank you, have a great day." It wasn't until this year, after 4 years of living on my own, that they granted me independent status. But all was not lost back then. Thanks to Bottom Line, I was nominated for the Hayden Scholarship and the TPI Scholarship. For some reason both committees took a risk on me and without that, WPI would not have been possible.
Adapting to college life was difficult. I was surrounded by so many intelligent individuals, but communication was a problem. No one spoke to me. I was cut short because others were more knowledgeable. You get a sad lonely feeling when you have no parents to call, no friends to talk to, and it feels like it's just you against the world. I felt overlooked because I was "a city kid" and people thought I was representing an MTV reality show. Well, my life is not a show, and I was not going to change just to belong. It's hard to live "the college life" with no money, no home, and no one you can trust.
Bottom Line did wonders for me because as much as I wanted something big to happen, the little things they did got me going. They sent out care packages with the food and candies that I wouldn't buy myself because I had to be conservative with money. I received holiday cards, birthday cards, and inspirational cards. One card quoted Larry Bird: "If you give 100 percent all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end." That card couldn't have come at a better time. As part of the TPI scholarship, Bottom Line sends me a $150 check each month during the school year to help out with the little things that I need. When I get this check I go out, usually by myself to celebrate with a nice meal, because that $150 dollars was like giving me a fresh chance to survive one more month.
For each of the last two summers, Bottom Line connected me to Sun Life Financial to work as an intern. This was my first chance to work in a professional office building and it taught me incredible lessons about the working world. This past summer Wes Thompson took the time to eat lunch with all of the Bottom Line interns. When I got the chance, I asked him about how he got to the top. Well, he didn't let me in on all his secrets, but what I heard him say was that it's not just about going straight to the top, it's better to understand what's important and work hard-real hard-and someday you will be noticed.
I share my story because I want to be noticed, but also because I don't want my kids to grow up the way I had to. Through hard work, change does come. At WPI, I major in Electrical and Computer Engineering. During this past spring, I worked on a project in Boston with engineers and other students to create a plan to adapt our drinking and wastewater systems to climate change. Me, Saul, "a city kid!"
One day I will have a wonderful family, I will be successful, and prove that these stereotypes can be broken. I hope to be a great example for those people that fight everyday and live unpredictable lives and still manage to dig deep and make something happen. I've had too many people leave my life. But, Bottom Line never gave up calling me, emailing me, and "stalking" me. When I ran out of money and life got so hard that I just wanted to be left alone, they always found me. It makes me feel like there is someone out there that sees something in me, that cares about me, and understands that life doesn't stop after you get in to college.