Teo has graduated! Late spring we received a text from Teo wondering if we might be able to attend his graduation. Teo, born in the United States, is a citizen, but his parents are not and now live in Mexico. Having supported his dream of a college degree, he had so hoped his parents would be able to come to the U.S. to see him graduate, but their request was denied.

How honored we were that Teo knew, having walked side-by-side with him these past years we would be delighted to attend. Celebrating with Teo over brunch at a local restaurant just before the ceremony we learned that though his degree is in Exercise Science, Teo hopes to find a career in business and possibly non-profit work.

Though he’d come to that realization a year or more ago, felt he was too far along toward a degree to change course. Changing course would have meant at least another year of school. He believed it was better to graduate and then take courses toward a business degree once employed.

We snapped pictures throughout the ceremony so that he might give his parents a glimpse of that important day. And we have heard recently that he is applying to a Boys and Girls Club for an administrative position. A perfect fit for Teo who believes he benefited from the support the local Holland Boys and Girls Club gave him when he was going to high school as well as college.

But let’s tell Teo’s story one more time:

Teohary, a 2011 Holland/Zeeland Promise Students, or Teo as everyone calls him, is the youngest of four children whose parents, Mexican citizen, were working in Los Angeles at the time of his birth. When he was 3 years old, Teo’s family returned to their hometown of Aguacliente, Mexico. But about to enter high school in Mexico, Teo’s family encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunities his American citizenship offered. He returned alone to the U.S. at 15 and began attending Holland High School.

For his first two years, Teo lived with a cousin of his father who owned a small store in the Holland area. Then during his junior and senior years he rented a small apartment where he lived on his own, working to support himself, attending school and — whenever possible — playing soccer!

It was through soccer tournaments offered at the Boys and Girls Club that Teo discovered what a support that organization could be for him as he pursued his dream of a high school diploma. There was tutoring support at the Boys and Girls Club and supportive mentors who encouraged Teo to dream even beyond high school, to think perhaps of college.

Teo didn’t think so. He had never aspired to a college education. All he wanted was a good job after graduation. However, when he found the only jobs available to him with a high school degree were in the blueberry fields, Teo dared to dream of more.

Still living on his own and supporting himself, Teo attended Grand Rapids Community College picking up the college preparatory classes he needed as well as helpful ESL classes (English as a Second Language).

He also managed to find time to “give back” volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club for two years after graduating from high school, working with the young middle school children for whom he had become a role model.

We’re delighted, that with help from the Holland/Zeeland Scholarship fund, Teo was able to take a summer session — in Spain! — which allowed him to graduate in December of 2013.

John Berry, an Upward Bound mentor, had this to say about Teo:

“Teo is one of the finest young men I’ve had the opportunity to know and mentor. He is dedicated to his future, stays focused on doing the right things, is considerate, dependable, trustworthy, hard working and a delight to be with. He has demonstrated his ability to overcome challenges and now sees the many opportunities before him. College is a dream he didn’t dare have. It’s exciting to see such a dream come true.”

Teo’s words of advice for other students following their dream of higher education?

“Never give up. Persevere. Work hard. And you can follow your dreams!”

To learn more about the Holland/Zeeland Promise Scholarship, visit www.cfhz.org/hzpromise