I have never been a fan of phone calls.
My childhood anxiety around the idea of picking up the phone and dialing family members or girls I liked only increased as texting grew popular and threw the original form of communication out into the retro dump of futility. So when one of the high school seniors I was working with called my cell phone, I was scared. Had she already heard bad news from one of her early action schools? Did I forget to mention a scholarship deadline? What potential maelstrom had befallen us?
Instead, she announced through tear-filled elation that she had received the Posse Scholarship, a full-tuition ride that also served as a gateway to a “posse” of other students attending the same school that would stay with her as she traversed her four years of higher education. Moreover, this scholarship was to Brandeis University, a strong academic institution and one she had been eyeing throughout the college process.
Though I was undoubtedly proud of her incredible accomplishment, what made me the most emotional was the fact that she continued to thank me, as if I were the one who made the decision or carried the brunt of the work. I responded with incredulity, pushing the onus back on her and congratulating her again and again for the incredible journey ahead of her. But what this interaction cemented for me was the impact moments like these—and the journeys required to get there—have on our students.
It comes as no surprise that getting to college can prove to be extremely hard for the population of students we serve; the combination of institutionally-driven restrictions, financial burdens, and implicit feelings of mediocrity causes many young scholars to falter and doubt their potential. As a first-generation man of color from an underserved community in Los Angeles, I have felt these uncertainties creep up at the most inopportune moments. Without reassurance from trusted sources, these suspicions can derail and destroy students’ paths to successes.
This is the reason I came Breakthrough New York as an FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow in the first place—to allow the fresh ideas of our next generation of leaders to flourish and mature as they traverse an environment that sometimes seeks to reject or stifle. To be completely transparent, this job can be difficult sometimes; serving students of all needs demands an attention to detail and a perseverance that can sometimes be exhausting. But when you get to witness moments like these, feel the emotions shine through with every letter of admission or internship acceptance, any doubt or frustration once had fades away.
It’s why I do what I do. And it’s why even when I feel my heart flutter, when a student calls, I pick up the phone.
Joseph Rosales is the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow and High School Coordinator for Breakthrough New York, a college success program that works with high-achieving, underserved students from across New York City. Using his own experiences as a first-gen student of color, he supports high school students in any way they need in an effort to help prepare them for the educational road ahead.