Growing up in a poverty-stricken community in Haiti, mechanical engineering junior and Evans Scholar Jon Paul regularly went to school hungry.
After school, Paul attempted to focus on his studies in a two-room household of eight people. In a song he listened to often, Bob Marley gave him his solution: "Education is key."
"I knew education was the key to breaking my family out of the cycle of poverty," Paul said. "There was really no shortcut. I knew that.”
Paul's family did not work and had limited education.
"It was a struggle every day," he said.
As a freshman in high school, Paul met an American family on a mission doing doctoral work. He helped them translate throughout their visit. The family eventually asked Paul if he wanted to live with them in Detroit, to finish high school in the United States – an offer he accepted.
“It changed my life a lot," Paul said. "I didn't really have a dream while I was in Haiti. I knew that I was trying to get through school, but I did not know what I really was going to do after high school. The sponsors gave me a chance of picking my family out of the cycle of poverty, and have given me a dream.”
In the U.S., Paul started caddying at the Country Club of Detroit – a business known for presenting its workers with the Chicks Evan Scholarship. He knew the job could potentially hand him the keys to the education he always wanted.
Paul then became a top-requested caddy at the club by talking to the guests and receiving compliments on his service. He was notorious for his work ethic. It was a tough job, but he said he had to trust the process.
He submitted his scholarship application on the last day possible. Over Christmas break, he was informed that he was being considered as a finalist for the scholarship.
“Receiving the text message that told me I was a finalist, it was one of the greatest days of my life knowing that I would have the chance to be interviewed and that it would be the greatest interview of my life to be able to go to college," Paul said. "It would change my life.”
Throughout the interview process, Paul said he seemingly charmed his way into the hearts of the donors and made the intimidating interview board laugh.
Paul's friend received his congratulatory letter three days before he did, which put him on edge. For three days, Paul waited for the mailwoman outside, eagerly awaiting the decision. Finally, the letter was delivered.
He was offered a full-ride for tuition and housing at MSU.
"It was the best day of my life. It was the pivotal moment of my life," Paul said. "That's when I knew that we got a chance to turn my family history around.”
Now in his junior year, Paul has lived in the Evans Scholars' house and gained friends to lean on. What he didn't do, however, was tell his friends the story of his upbringing. They didn't know his story until his video speech was presented at the Western Golf Association's Green Coat Gala.
“I've never told anyone about it because I never wanted anyone to treat me differently or to be nice to me just because of things I went through," Paul said. "I just want people to be nice to me because I deserve it or because they are my friends, not because of my story. I never see myself as different.”
While Paul was nervous to talk in front of people or boast about himself at the gala, he did it for a good cause: the association raised $1 million for more students to get the same opportunity he did.
"It was a very good experience, speaking in front of people to tell them my story, and how they've changed my life so they can continue to change other people's lives,” Paul said.
Paul hopes to serve as representation for Haitian people, because he says hold the most faith and optimism that a community could have. His future goals include finding a job in engineering that gives him the opportunity to support his family at home.
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