2021 Graduation

Posted by: The Wily Network


Watching Scholars reach graduation is what Wily is all about! For the class of 2021, this is a graduation year unlike any other. College students all over the country have overcome unprecedented challenges head-on to reach this special milestone in their educational journey. Wily Scholars are no exception. After a year like this, one thing is for certain, the class of 2021 is looking forward to what’s next.

The future is bright for this resilient class of Wily Graduates: 

Agustin, Boston College

Auberta, Boston College

Edgar, Boston College

J’Saun, Boston College

Sonam, Boston College

Tikia, Boston College

Joel, Bridgewater State University

Mathieu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hantoa, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tre, Middlebury College

On May 20th, we gathered via Zoom to celebrate our Wily Seniors. We laughed, cried, reflected on the journey to graduation, and enjoyed hearing some words of wisdom from our keynote speaker, Carmen Ortiz-McGhee (Chief Operating Officer, National Association of Investment Companies), and our Alumni speaker, Davae (Northeastern University ‘19). 

Thank you to those who donated in honor of the Class of 2021! Your investment enables us to walk by the side of Wily Scholars and ensure they have the support and resources necessary to reach graduation.


This year, as the coronavirus pandemic continues, returning to or entering college is looking very different for students. While some universities have allowed students back on campus for in-person learning, other schools are instituting full-time remote classes or a hybrid approach consisting of both. For students on campus, emotions are high as they balance the fear of getting sick with the stress of a full workload and the sadness of being isolated from friends. While having to navigate this new world is an unsettling inconvenience for most college students, it is truly a dire situation for Wily Scholars. The pandemic has exacerbated their already stressful financial, academic, and emotional challenges making the road to graduation for Wily Scholars even harder.


Financial Strain: An Everyday Reality

The burden of the pandemic has exposed a staggering class divide among students. Like many college students, Wily Scholars, depend on their wages from local jobs or work-study programs. Unfortunately, college work-study programs, put into place to help students like Wily Scholars, have become limited. With campus amenities closed—such as gyms and dining halls—the workforce needed to maintain these facilities is diminished, although Scholars were told the promise of work-study would be honored. Additionally, off-campus jobs offer few employment opportunities. Many of the bars and restaurants surrounding college campuses that were previously eager to hire students, were unable to weather the storm that devastated the hospitality industry, and are either closed or unable to hire.

Scholars looking beyond the college environment for employment are met with the economic hardships lingering over the job market. Many students are eager to apply their classroom knowledge in the real world with internships, but are seeing promising opportunities postponed or canceled. With future employers hiring based on relevant work experience, the inability to have an internship is not only affecting Scholars financially now, but also post-graduation when they lack the necessary experience to get a job. For Wily Scholars, this job market nightmare means come graduation they may not have the financial independence or job experience needed to survive in the real world. Without the financial stability of steady employment post graduation, the realities of housing and food insecurity for Wily graduates are daunting.


Academic Impact: Navigating a New Learning Environment

Adding to the stress of a college workload, many students must also navigate the challenges of virtual learning. With little warning or time to prepare, students have transitioned their mindset from a traditional classroom to a makeshift lecture hall, also functioning as their dorm room. For students who thrive in a classroom setting, virtual learning has stripped all face-to-face interaction and can lead to loneliness and increased isolation. A Wily Scholar commented, “By far the hardest thing about virtual learning is staying motivated and focused in class. It’s very easy to not go to lecture or not pay attention because you can spend the whole day in your room.”


Social & Emotional Challenges: Coping with COVID-19

The emotional stress brought on by the pandemic is by far one of the most daunting factors for Wily Scholars. Changes in financial status and academic environment can, directly and indirectly, impact students psychologically. In addition to dealing with isolation and the challenges of learning behind a screen, Scholars also face housing insecurity—unsure of where they will go if campuses close again and send students home. Students with stable home environments are comforted by the fact that if their college sends them home again, they’ll have a safe environment to return to. Often, Wily Scholars do not have that privilege. Many Wily Scholars have no home to go to, or an unstable home environment, and for others, returning home would only be an added burden.

Another factor affecting Scholar’s mental wellbeing is food insecurity—which for many college students is often just a few missed paychecks away. While this is not a new issue on college campuses, with fewer jobs available for students, the pandemic has heightened this concern. The CARES Act, passed in March, has provided relief for some students, but its impact was not widespread. “Overwhelming” is an understatement for students, like Wily Scholars, managing housing insecurity, food insecurity and obstacles impacting their academic success.


Building Up Our Community: Power of the Pack

One Scholar reflected on their transition back to school stating, “Wily has been so helpful as I’ve transitioned back to campus during the pandemic. During a time where everything is up in the air, Wily has been such a necessary beacon of hope and stability. The transition back to college is always difficult, but this year might have been impossible without all that Wily has done for me.”

The pandemic has already wiped out restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues but the Wily Network refuses to let the pandemic wipe out the progress that Wily students have made. While Scholars are facing a steep uphill battle in comparison to most college students, with the help of our pack—donors like you—we will be able to continue to provide the financial and emotional support needed to guide Scholars.

Early Obstacles and Later Success

Posted by: Marissa, Wily Scholar, Boston College


On September 20th, 2020 I will be moderating an online discussion, Early Obstacles and Later Success, with Triston Francis, hosted by the Wily Network. 

I initially connected with Triston at a Wily event with Harvard Business School, Professionally Telling Your Story at HBS, and recently reached out to Triston after hearing his MASA seminar. I wanted to hear his thoughts on how early adversity has led to his success, as well as gain advice and insights on how he managed early adversity and a demanding educational program.

A first-generation college student who grew up in an underserved community, Triston did not have a lot of access to educational opportunities or guidance. He didn’t think education could help him out of his situation, but a lucky opportunity to go to boarding school changed his life. Over time, Triston received the coaching and support he needed to believe in himself and set high goals.

Triston received a BS from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, and served as president of both the Black Wharton Undergraduate Association as well as the African-American Senior Honor Society. After graduating he worked as an associate on Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Client Strategy Team. Triston received his MBA from Harvard Business School, where he served as the Student Body President and graduated in the top 20% of his class.

Outside of school and work, Triston founded a professional development speaker series in New York City called Navigating Corporate America, and is involved with the non profits Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) and Sponsorship for Educational Opportunity (SEO).

I wanted to share Triston’s story with my younger brother, who struggles to return to a rigorous academic school while balancing a turbulent family situation. As a young student, it is difficult for him to understand how the challenges he is facing now, inside and outside the classroom, will prepare him with essential life skills. Like many other students, my brother has been presented with many unprecedented challenges he must overcome, while showing appreciation for the resources he is provided. 

Triston and I felt that many students could benefit from hearing his journey, learning about different aspects of measuring growth, and asking personal questions. 

Two months later, I am now working with the Wily Network’s communications team to create promotional media and conduct community outreach. This experience has allowed me to grow my management skills, expand my network, and share with the community a resource that has helped me. I am very excited to host and moderate this discussion, and share this opportunity with my community. 

Early Obstacles and Later Success will take place on Sunday, September 20th, 7:30-8:30 pm EST. This discussion is a great opportunity to learn more about Triston’s story: his take on the power of education, his mindset while overcoming obstacles, and the experiences that were essential for his professional success. These topics are truly versatile, highlighting the importance of different growth forms, whether it be academic or personal. Regardless of your age, educational foundation, or personal background, if you are interested in learning about the positive impact of adversity, this is the event for you. Click here to sign up for the event! All you need is a phone or computer with a stable connection to tune in.

My Hospitalization

Posted by: John, Wily Alum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


In December 2018, I was sitting with my Wily Coach in the office of the Associate Chief of Student Mental Health. This had been the result of having a tumultuous year.

In all honesty, I should have sought this level of help in the fall of 2017. This was when I can retrospectively recognize I was hopelessly depressed. I was tired, apathetic, disinterested, unmotivated, self-isolating. I was not going to classes, club meetings, or anything that required me to do more than be present. I was out of my usual routines, and in a new routine of sleeping whenever I passed out from exhaustion and ordering food at ungodly hours. At its darkest, it was the closest I came to no longer being here.

I kept telling myself “It can’t be.” I kept thinking about how others in my family had mental health afflictions, but it couldn’t be me; I was just being unmotivated, lazy, and ungrateful of my opportunities. But telling myself this ad infinitum and not seeking legitimate help only led to further stress and inner turmoil, with a placement on Academic Warning bordering on forced Academic Leave depending on how the end of fall 2018 went.

Circling back to that day in December 2018, I was in a zombie-like state of automation in damage-control mode. My Student Support Services provider had mentioned the idea of hospitalization that same morning, but I was too pig-headed at that moment, and I only listened to what she said, when in reality I needed to hear it.

I didn’t hear what she said until it was repeated again in the Mental Health office. At this point, I was feeling a bit irritated, betrayed in what felt like my support network conspiring against me, not believing in what I know I am capable of. But the doctor countered my placations with one question: “If you leave here and don’t go to the hospital, what will you do?” It was the only thing I heard that day: as much as I wanted to be optimistic and argue, I couldn’t shake the reality of his question, realizing that I wouldn’t have done any of the things I said I would. It was then that I made one of the best decisions of my life and left his office, preparing for my coach to bring me to McLean for however long was necessary to begin healing. 

It wasn’t until a few days in, when I had slept for a regular time, ate healthy meals at a regular time, and could really comprehend how and why I was here, that I realized this wasn’t a punishment. This was my coach and my support network wanting what was best for me. And as I started a long, never-ending journey of self-discovery and healing, I knew I wouldn’t have to take the first steps alone. And that made a world of difference.


Novels have the ability to transform, illustrate and even inspire a new beginning. Learning about a person’s point of view or life story can lead to unexpected opportunities.  For Judi Alperin King, founder of the Wily Network, her unexpected opportunity came after reading Steve Pemberton’s A Chance in the World. Having made the decision to launch the Wily Network, Judi was working on the program’s design. She was determined to address the key issues Steve outlined in the book for future Wily scholars. Motivated by the connection between Steve’s memoir and the nascent Wily Network, Judi tracked Steve down to ask him to serve in an advisory capacity for Wily. 

Each time they meet or Judi has the opportunity to hear Steve speak, she learns something new that informs her approach to supporting Wily scholars. On July 27th, the Wily Network hosted a virtual book club with Steve, with a discussion led by Carmen Ortiz-McGhee. The host for the evening was Wily Scholar J’Saun Bastien, a Boston College senior. 

Sitting in his home office filled with family photos and stacks of books, Steve Pemberton recalled his youth growing up in and out of foster care and longing for knowledge of his origins. Pemberton dreamed of having an understanding of family as he grew up without parental figures in foster homes that viewed him only as a way to make money. 

Nevertheless, he prioritized academic integrity and hard work, which led him to Boston College. Pemberton saw living on campus and socializing as an opportunity to construct a sense of belonging. But in reality, he felt disconnected from his peers who saw college as a chance to break away from their families; he was still trying to find his own. 

During his college years, Pemberton also struggled with his racial identity; he recognized the “template of blackness,” that people wanted to put him in while debating his lighter complexion and blue eyes. Pemberton explains that he “wasn’t white enough for the white kids but wasn’t black enough for the black kids,” which only perpetuated his struggling to find a sense of identity. 

Beyond his internal battles, Pemberton experienced physical isolation throughout the school year. In the winter, while his friends were home for the holidays, Pemberton was sneaking into his dorm room, with no heat as the college assumed the building to be vacant. Pemberton decided to layer up and endure the weather rather than call a friend;  he didn’t want to be a burden during the holidays, which “are for families, not someone like me.”

Following his graduation, Pemberton became a college admissions officer with the goal to broaden the viewpoint of those in decision-making positions. This role was crucial for Pemberton who believes that healing from a difficult upbringing is not just about internal processes but also how much you are willing to “pivot that healing into someone else’s troubles.”

Pemberton went on to describe this way of healing as alongside “lighthouses,” support structures made up of individuals who show up and help guide in times of vulnerability or when “you’re in the middle of a storm.” In these times of vulnerability, Pemberton explains, “you want to be quiet and navigate without much attention, but the lighthouse sees you, the difficulty of the storm before you, and the way through it.”

For Wily Scholars, the Wily Network is a lighthouse, meeting them as they navigate life under challenging circumstances and helping to move them forward.

As a successful writer and now a mentor himself, Pemberton applauded Wily’s ability to help scholars “find fullness in the hazards of life,” and ensure they’re seen for who they are. 

“Being seen is very impactful,” explains Pemberton, “I talk to [people] not in the language of [their] circumstances but in the language of [their] dreams even if [they themselves] can’t really see them.”

Speaking of people as being “at risk” or “underprivileged” inherently ingrains that belief into their conscience and perpetuates a sense of failure. Wily and Pemberton both recognize how a tone of pity can shift a student’s trajectory away from self-confidence and determination. 

Pemberton stated that the people who often felt sorry for him weren’t the ones who were going to help him, even if they acknowledged the hardship. True empowerment acknowledges struggle but emphasizes the new beginning coming from it. Supporters stand next to the person as the lighthouses they are and help navigate the situation as if they were equals.

This all too common narrative of pity is what drives Pemberton and those at Wily to reject that dynamic and instead ground encouragement in the possibilities of one’s goals, not the hindrances of one’s circumstances. 

Wily’s virtual book club with Steve Pemberton, which opened up meaningful dialogue about race, class, and opportunity, was an inspiring event for the Wily Network, the Scholars, alumni, and supporters. As a community, we intend to continue having these important conversations through book clubs and similar events in the future.


Posted by: Regina, Wily Scholar, Middlebury College


She came to me last night in a dream. We were walking in Vermont, passing the circular tables & wooden chairs of Otter Creek Bakery. But the landscape was off. The bluegrass of the rural town had met the urban landscape of my childhood. Rolling fields and mom & pop shops mixed in with metal street lights and the Hudson. After I moved, she never visited me so she wouldn’t know the difference. The main reason why she hasn’t visited is bus tickets are $60 one way, but she also hasn’t visited because I haven’t invited her. 

“I want things to be different,” I tell her. We’re drifting along the sidewalk next to the glittering green plains. “I want you to be different.”

“What’s wrong?” she asks. A wooden bench materializes that would fit in nicely along the Coney Island boardwalk and she pulls me over. It reminds me that we haven’t been to the beach since I was a kid, or done really anything together for more than a couple of hours. She pats my shoulder like the mother she could’ve been. The mother she is “on good days,” when her disorder was more a gentle ripple than the crashing waves it usually is.

“I miss you,” I tell her. 

My teenhood was all about escaping my childhood home, running and running until I found somewhere that felt safe to stop. Now, I’m in my early twenties and I’m free from her — the cloudy Klonopin tirades, the crying at the door, the threats of calling the cops, the escaping to friends’ houses for weekends or longer. I am 21 and never have to live with my mother ever again. I spent my whole life escaping her only to find that I miss her. That she shows up in my dreams.

“I need you to change,” I tell her. “I need you to change so you can be part of my life.” 

Do you know what it’s like to ask for something you know you’re never going to get? Last night on the phone, a friend and I were talking about death, specifically the eventual death of our parents.

“I don’t want to spend my whole life in another country away from them,” he says. He has a lovely family, but such is his plague: international, torn between creating a life somewhere with more freedom or making the most of the life and limitations he has at home in Turkey. I feel for him. 

I wonder what he thinks of me: mom not only in the same country, but the same state and I want as little to do with her as possible. My mom and I talk every Friday for an hour and usually I’m so drained afterwards that I just lie down and stare at my ceiling. I wonder, what does he think of me? Would my situation be any different if my mom was 5,000 miles away? What would he think if he had a mom like mine? 

On her good days, my mom is bright & beautiful, beating these Brooklyn streets with her dark wavy bob and macabre wit. On her bad days, of which there are many, she makes me question whether it was better to have been born. If I ask her to change in real life — and I have — there will be one perfect week before it all comes crumbling down again. Do you know what it’s like to hope for something only to have it fail you every time? 

 This is the reality of my family that I carry on my back. Some days it’s so heavy on my chest I can’t get up and on other days I can barely remember its weight. I’m just waiting for the day when I can put my baggage down and walk away. Whether that’s with her or without her. 


My At-home Lab

Posted by: Amira, Wily Scholar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


I had access to everything at MIT: table saws, metal cutters, soldering stations, and every tool you can imagine. At home I have…well…I have a table and a hand drill?

As someone who loves tinkering, it has been especially hard to transition home without the usual resources I have on campus. Sure, I have to worry about not being with my friends, having to now do chores, and, of course, worry about the possible pneumonia and life-threatening conditions I can get from COVID-19. But where am I going to 3D print my motor mount?

Luckily for me, I’m a hoarder. Ever since my first hackathon, I’ve been collecting microcontrollers, sensors, perfboards, motors, sheet metal, and multiple sets of screwdrivers. I have essentially brought my entire lab home! And I want to give you a tour of it so you know just how much of a hoarder I am, and to take a chance to “ooo” and “ahh” at my multiple unfinished projects.

I’m an aerospace engineer, so it’s safe to assume I love drones. I have a pre-built airplane that I fly at the park down the street from my house, and I am currently making a quadcopter drone! The only problem is 3D printing the parts I need; thankfully, I can do so online!

Above: The pre-built airplane

Above is the 3D model for the quadcopter using SolidWorks


I’ve also been working on a few RC cars. I found five of them in a garbage can and couldn’t resist but to take them home, clean them up, and re-wire them. I have re-built three of them and the two others need 3D printed parts; the ultimate goal is for them to communicate with each other using Bluetooth so that you can control all of them with just one controller. To test them, and for some fun, my family and I set up a course in our basement made of PVC pipes!


Above: Two of the five RC cars, ready to go!

Above: The race track


And those are the large projects I’m working on. Classes start soon and while I can say I have thoroughly enjoyed my weeks off settling down at home and working on fun projects, I have to say I’m excited to be doing some coursework. Don’t get me wrong though, in a few days I will be right back at my workbench, tinkering with more electronics. For now, I have a drone to build! Stay safe & squeaky clean!

Study Abroad in Accra, Ghana

Posted by: Ashley, Wily Scholar, Harvard University


Last summer I studied abroad in Accra, Ghana. Though I’m a first-generation Nigerian, this was my first time on the continent and my first time being outside of the United States for a substantial amount of time. It was illuminating and fun and dynamic in ways I couldn’t have prepared myself for. Before visiting Accra, I hadn’t ever been in an environment where the general majority of the population was Black. My features were so familiar that I often got mistaken for a native resident, people would stop me in the street and ask me questions in Twi. It was a precious feeling of belonging that I wish every Black person could experience. In many ways, the closeness I felt was merely an aesthetic one: language barriers and cultural differences made communication and connection processes I would have to learn and grow into. But a global system of anti-blackness offers up the Black aesthetic as inherently criminal/other, and therefore a significant unifying quality of identification. I took a course at the University of Ghana on reproductive health and maternal mortality rates in Ghana and another course in Twi. As an art concentrator, I hadn’t taken many sociology courses and I found the reproductive health course fascinating as it covered statistics and trends about reproductive behavior in Ghana while also weighing the societal pressures that cause such behaviors. It definitely helped that our professor was a women’s rights advocate and activist and all-around brilliant woman. We visited the site where traditional Ghanaian kente cloth had been invented and harvested fresh cacao. We also visited Cape Coast’s slave castle, which is one of about forty slave castles, built on the Gold Coast of West Africa (now Ghana) by European imperialists. This was an extremely emotional experience especially since the castles are kept in near perfect conditions. It was used as a site in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We went to the beach, art markets and live concerts on weekends! It was one of my favorite summers.

What I learned from Wrestling

Posted by: John, Wily Alum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


This year capped off the last year in my decade spanning career as a wrestler. I didn’t know that in seventh grade when I showed up to the wrestling team meeting, that this wouldn’t be like WWE Monday Night Raw. I didn’t know that even after hardly learning a move and losing every match I was in that year, that I would persist. I didn’t know I would have been one point away from being a state qualifier, but ultimately falling in the blood round senior year. I didn’t know that I was going to keep wrestling in college, becoming a three time national qualifier. I didn’t know that my biggest college win would be in the conference finals, winning by pinfall in double-overtime after being injured and sick the same week. Most improbable of all, I didn’t know that I would lose my dad, my biggest supporter in the sport, the day after my junior season started. Nor did I know what heartache lay ahead. I just didn’t know.

But there is a lot that I do know now. I know this sport has taught me how to overcome adversity. I know this sport has taught me patience when I couldn’t immediately excel. I know this sport has graced me with many great coaches, from middle school to college, who have shaped my path and strengthened my yearning to coach as well. I know this sport has truly taught me what it means to have teammates, and to call them friends on and off the mat. I know this sport has given me more than I ever thought I would have, and it allowed me to build a deeper bond with my dad. Most important of all, I know that while seasons may get cut short, the lessons you take with you have no off-days.

COVID-19 College Student Experience

Posted by: Joel, Wily Scholar, Bridgewater State University


Written March 23, 2020.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus.  The COVID-19 outbreak was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China and has since been found in nearly every country.

The World Health Organization has declared this a pandemic. I have never experienced this kind of fear and panic. It started with a few cases and has soared to about 350,000 coronavirus cases as of today, March 23rd. It’s unsettling that a disease that started 7,000 miles away from the United States is having such a drastic impact on our country and the rest of the world.  

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting my personal life by halting all my daily activities – school, work, and the gym. Massachusetts, where I live, has prohibited public gatherings of 25 people or more. It feels like each day the situation in my home state is getting worse. Cases of COVID-19 are rising daily. It is urgent that we all participate in social distancing by standing 6 feet away from each other and even avoid seeing others. 

I work 40 hours per week at AAA and attend Bridgewater State University full-time. I live alone, so not being able to work or see people will be difficult. Bridgewater State University had to shut down and adapt by moving to online classes for the remainder of the semester. It will be stressful trying to focus on schoolwork and finding a stable source of income to cover expenses. I filed for unemployment and was unsuccessful -the online procedure requires that you be without work and income for a certain period of time before you can apply for this benefit. 

Preparing to stay at home has been difficult because many stores lack the food and resources that we need. “Panic buying” has started – if you go to Costco or Walmart you may find yourself waiting in line just to go in. Items like toilet paper, water bottles, medicine, and alcohol are harder to find. 

In the right conditions this virus can spread rapidly and, in some cases, become life-threatening. We toned to protect each other by staying home and practicing sanitization like frequent hand washing. Everyone’s lives have been impacted by this devastating virus. 

While many are out of jobs, this is a time to relax and take care of things at home. Bond with family members in your own household. Organize shelves and do a little bit of cleaning. With the extra time I have available now, I play with my dog and I started painting my house. I was able to paint a few rooms, organize shelves, and clean the house. Working full-time and being a full-time student does not give me a lot of time at home to take care of things, so one positive thing about this pandemic is that has given me more time at home. We don’t know when the COVID-19 pandemic will slow down or go away, but for now it is best to stay home and participate in social distancing.