We are proud to empower and support Worcester students so they can achieve college and career success. The students we serve come from a variety of backgrounds and have many different career interests, yet they all share one goal: to get into college, graduate from college, and go far in life.
We invite you to meet some of our incredible students by reading their stories of success.
[abridged from the speech Luis gave at the Worcester Recognition Night in June 2016]
My name is Luis Ernesto Santos and I am a recent graduate. I had the opportunity and privilege to study at Worcester State University and graduate with degrees in both Spanish and in Sociology. To the Class of 2016, the journey to graduating from college was not an easy one, with many obstacles along the way that push us to the very limits, but nevertheless we made it! We crossed the finish line.
Like many students in this room my life was not an easy one, one with very little opportunities and resources. I was born in Los Angeles, California to two hard working parents that emigrated from their native country of El Salvador. I will never forget the story that my mother told the day she realized that not everyone in this country has the same opportunities. My mother while eight months pregnant would clean houses for very wealthy people in Los Angeles and be paid 20 dollars a day for her work, she was 17 at the time. One day she was cleaning a woman’s house who was also 17 and pregnant but the difference was that she was wealthy, very wealthy. Out of curiosity she entered the soon to be baby's room and she saw all of these great and luxurious things that she didn’t see as important, like a crib, which my mother could not afford. After she saw this she realized there were larger implications and she began to cry and cry because she was about to bring her son to a world of uncertainty. She realized a life in Los Angeles was not possible and through a series of events I came to Massachusetts. My parents wanted me and my brother to have a better life than they had.
Education was always important to my mother, and after seeing my parents struggle to just write their name, read, and speak English, I quickly realized the importance and the value of an education. Unfortunately, I was not the best student during my time in high school, and when it came time to college applications I was not optimistic. I had a very low GPA and very bad SAT scores. I knew that I had limited options in terms of college acceptances. To make it even worse a faculty member from my high school told me a very unfortunate statistic. She told me that Latino men have between a 30-37 percent of graduating from a university. She said, " Luis are you sure college is for you?” My counselor told me about Bottom Line and recommended that I apply. I will never forget the first day I entered the Bottom Line office. It was bitter sweet because two weeks earlier I was denied to the only college that I thought I had a chance of getting into. I was very nervous to come to Bottom Line because it was embarrassing to tell a stranger all of the mistakes I made during high school. When I arrived the first person I met was Rebecca, a fellow WSU graduate. The way she greeted me with optimism and warmth made me say think “maybe this organization can help me.”
My first advisor at Bottom Line was Kira and she showed the list of universities that Bottom Line worked with. Inside I was thinking "yeah I got denied to all of those.” I told Kira that I was denied to Worcester State University, but that I received news that I was given second chance at WSU through a program called A.I.D. which means Alternatives for Individual Development. A.I.D. is a 6-week summer program designed to help students build the necessary skills before beginning college. Kira told me “all hope is not lost and you still have a chance of getting into college!” she said it with such optimism that I began to believe in myself. In order to be accepted into the program I needed to write a two-page paper of why they should accept me into their program and have a one-on-one interview. Well, it came the day for the interview and I was very nervous because once again I had to tell a complete stranger my mistakes during my time in high school.
I was interviewed by Laxxmi Bissondial from Worcester State. During the interview I told her that I was very scared about going to the University because I had a very low GPA in high school. I asked her, "So what makes you think that I am going to succeed at the University level?" And she responded and said to me “you don’t give yourself enough credit Luis. The fact that you are concerned about your future and your education says a lot about yourself. It shows me that you want a better life and higher opportunities." She told me something that I WILL NEVER FORGET! She told me “Luis you have the tools for success you just don’t know how to use them. You are so rich and full of potential that you don’t even know”. About two to three weeks later I was accepted into the A.I.D. program, then enrolled in college, and the rest is history.
Programs like Bottom Line and A.I.D helped me build the skills necessary to succeed at the University level and beyond. In addition to academic and financial support and guidance, I also learned valuable professional skills such as how to write a cover letter, build a resume and prepare for an interview. And most importantly for me, organizations like Bottom Line, helped me see my true potential. I was able to secure an internship with Ascentria, working with unaccompanied minors, and I was given the rare opportunity to study abroad to Cuba, the first person at Worcester State to do so. These are things I never even thought about as a senior in high school. Now that I have graduated, I will be working as a legal assistant at Metro West Legal Services working with attorneys. In the very near future I am going to apply to law school with the goal of one day becoming an immigration attorney.
We always had the tools for success and now we know how to use them. I KNOW that this class of recent graduates will impart the tools they acquired to the next generation.
Congratulations Bottom Line Class of 2016!
Ina moved to the United States from Albania when she was twelve. "My family—me, my mom, and my brother—moved here because my mom wanted us to get a better education than we would in Albania. I was really young and had to take care of my family because I was the older child. My mom didn't speak English, so it was basically up to me." Ina learned English quickly and was able to attend the Boston Latin Academy. She applied to Bottom Line after hearing about the program from a fellow volunteer at a local organization.
Inspired by her mother, Ina wanted to study engineering. With support from Bottom Line, Ina applied to 10 colleges, including Boston University, MIT, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), UMass Amherst, and Tufts University. She says it came down to UMass Amherst and WPI, and Bottom Line helped her make the tough decision of which college to attend. "It wasn't that I didn't know where to go, it was the financial part of it... I didn't have money to go to WPI. So Bottom Line said, 'Here are some scholarships. Apply to them.' And I did." Ina received a $10,000 scholarship from the Stephen Phillips Memorial Scholarship Fund, allowing her to afford WPI and avoid taking out an excessive loans. She has continued to receive this scholarship each year since then.
Shortly after arriving at WPI, Ina declared a major in Electrical and Computer Engineering. While adjusting to the challenge of college life, Ina faced her classes head-on. In her first semester, she earned all As and Bs.
Ina continued to move quickly toward her goals inside and outside of class. During the summer after her freshman year, she was able to put her new engineering skills to work at Draper Laboratory as an intern. "I didn't know anything about Draper, and never would have considered it because it was the end of my freshman year. Everyone tells you that after the end of your sophomore year you can apply for internships, so I wasn't looking at all. I received a phone call from Bottom Line saying they needed my resume for this interesting opportunity...A week later, I got a call from Draper...A month later, I was working at Draper." That summer, Ina interned in the Microelectronics Department and worked on two projects for the Navy. She has since returned to Draper to work during each summer break.
Ina made the most of her time at WPI by maintaining a high GPA, volunteering for local organizations, working on various engineering projects, and even mentoring younger students. She completed her degree in the spring of 2012 and began graduate school in the fall to further her studies in electrical and computer engineering.
"El futuro es tuyo, mijo." The future is yours. To some this is a mere cliché and to others just words. But to someone who has nothing, the future is all they have to live for. Those words are all I have to live for. When I was little, my mom would come to my room every night and whisper this into my ear as she left for her second job. I would pretend to close my eyes and then stare blankly out the window as I watched her drive off a second time to yet another factory. This was a far cry from the songs that we heard before we boarded the plane to the United States a few years prior. The bass would kick from the speakers as the bachata artists rejoiced and told stories of the dollar bills that rained down on New York City or the golden lace hanging from Central Park. This fantasy soon turned into a bleak reality when we arrived in Manhattan and were greeted by the friendly gang members who did not hesitate to show us what the American dream was really about. My parents were not discouraged and, though penniless, we made our way to Worcester.
A few weeks later, I found myself in the first grade, knowing exactly three words in English: "please" and "thank you." The kids loved to tease me about my accent and I found myself fluent in the language of playground trash-talk. Words mean a lot to me and the wounds from the taunts cut deep. I felt alone and distant in this place where the word "spic" suddenly became my name. But I did not let these words discourage me. After countless long nights with my English book, I found myself at the top of the class and was soon moved up a grade. The jump was bittersweet. Although I escaped the immaturity of my peers, the situation at home had become unstable. I came home from school one day and found my mother's jacket lying on her bed, her purse on the table, and the keys on the couch, but she was nowhere to be found and no one knew where she was. The hours seemed to be weeks and I missed "mami." My sister and I went to bed in tears wondering where she had gone, why she would leave us. If she could leave, why would anyone else stay? Four lonely nights later, there was a knock on the door and my mother walked in. She was crying and although the tears would lose themselves on the grime surrounding her face, she hugged us and assured us she would never leave. She fell on the couch and I called an ambulance. The doctors discovered that she had suffered an anxiety attack on her way home and had been sleeping in the woods that bordered our house.
My mom had always been my rock, the one that always stood beside me. But at the age of eight, I had come to the realization that I could depend on no one but myself. I was convinced no one could change my mind. High school began and I continued to excel academically. I ran a successful campaign for president of my class, traveled on business competitions across the nation, joined the National Honor Society, acted in the school play, played on the football team, volunteered, and participated in just about every activity. But as always, I continued to do everything alone. My teacher and friend Scott Mehringher began to fill my head with thoughts of college and that became my new goal. I would spend nights searching for colleges and I was determined to get into a business school and be successful enough to never have to see my family suffer. Junior year began and another teacher and dear friend Dee Anderson was assisting me in applying for an internship when we conversed about the possibility of college. I told her that it was a business school or bust. She told me that for such a big goal I would need big help. Of course, I have never been the type to ask for help and I soon found myself trying to fill out the applications on my own. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. I thought that there was absolutely no way this was going to happen. I could hardly distinguish a CSS from a FAFSA, never mind filling them out. Mrs. Anderson and Mr. Mehringher both suggested that I join a new program called Bottom Line. I read the flyer and knew it was exactly what I needed. I started meeting with my advisor, Yorky, and everything was going according to plan; we were close to submitting the applications. Then again things started falling apart.
I came home from school and once again my mother had left. To make matters worse, I received a call and learned that my mentor, Mr. Mehringher, had succumbed to his three-year battle with cancer. I was broken. My father had to work longer shifts to provide for me and my sister, so I felt like I had no family to come home to and at school there was always something missing. Again my mother came home on the fourth day, but then spent a month in the hospital. I walked into the Bottom Line office mid-day on a Saturday and Yorky sat me down and we talked as Michelle and Marilyn (two other advisors) fetched me milk and cookies. Even though when I walked into my house it was always empty, I knew I had a second family at Bottom Line.
Eventually things settled and the sorrow turned to joy when in March college acceptance letters were mailed out. On my birthday, March 26th, I proceeded to do my daily mail run and prayed for a big package. I opened the mailbox and there it was: a big purple letter. I teared up almost instantaneously as I read the words, "Congratulations on your acceptance to College of the Holy Cross!" I ran upstairs to show my parents. My mom hugged me and, for the first time since I was eight years old, I felt at home. Any negativity washed away with my admission to Holy Cross; I was admitted into a life of limitless potential and my future seemed brighter than ever. I jumped into my car and drove across the city in a matter of seconds to read the letter aloud to the whole Bottom Line office. The smiles on the advisors' faces and the warm hugs that ensued helped mark this truly memorable day.
Although I had plans to attend a business school, I realized the value of a liberal arts education and made the decision to move up the hill. It was probably the best decision I have ever made, a decision that was made possible by the continued efforts of an amazing group of people. They were helpful not only with the college process but are relentless in their efforts to better the futures of students like me. My acceptance to Holy Cross was only the first step. As an aspiring Economics major, I know I will face new challenges over the next few years, but I know that my second family at Bottom Line will always be with me."