Virtual Discussion with Steve Pemberton: His Chance in the World and Creating Chances for Others

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.

Spotlight on Michael Julian

Michael Julian, board member since 2016, has enthusiastically supported Wily since our first year of working with students. He has spoken about his personal experiences as a college student without family support at several Wily events and shares his story with us here.

1. Please tell us a little bit about your life.

I live in Concord, Massachusetts, with my wife and eight-month-old daughter. I have spent much of my free time over the last five years renovating our historic house with the help of friends. Since graduating from Bowdoin College, I have worked all over the world in the technology field, living in Singapore and Hong Kong.

2. Why Wily? What drew you to our mission?

I was emancipated at the age of 17. I understand what it is like to attend college without support and not to have a home to visit over the holidays and when school is closed.

I can relate to the experience of our Scholars, growing up with five siblings in rural poverty, being exposed to drugs and alcohol in a volatile household, and experiencing the frequent involvement of social services.

Following my emancipation, I worked several jobs throughout high school and went from friend’s couch to friend’s couch, until my senior year when my baseball coach of many years and his wife took me in. I wanted to succeed and take care of my family — which is a Sisyphean task when you grow up with poverty-fueled thinking. Like the Wily Scholars, I often felt — and still feel — like I could never do enough.

I have personally seen many talented and capable people with similar challenges fall through the cracks. I see the obstacles that Wily Scholars are facing, and I want to help. 

3. You had a complicated early family life. How did that impact your arrival and first year at Bowdoin?

I applied to college with no SAT prep. I chose my schools randomly, without
guidance or any models of how to navigate the process. I was simply oblivious.

Despite my haphazard college process, I was accepted to Bowdoin College in Maine and dropped off by my friend’s mom. In order to make it all work, I accepted multiple jobs on and off campus. My focus on being a student was diluted by the need to pay my bills. It was hard to focus on thriving in college when I was used to functioning in survival mode.

My independence and history created other significant obstacles my freshman year. At times it complicated relationships with my peers. My freshman year, I moved my bed into the living area in my dorm room. I am social by nature and was chronically oversharing. I felt as though I needed to constantly explain myself. I was looking for safety in an unfamiliar environment. I was not prepared for simple questions, such as “What do your parents do?”

In many ways I was leading a double life. I had a “fake it until you make it” attitude. In general, it’s hard to juxtapose life on a college campus with a family situation like mine. You have to manage the guilt. For example, I enjoyed Bowdoin’s famous dining hall with its abundance of food, while my family members struggled with homelessness and addiction. One tends to want to share what one has earned — I so wanted my siblings to have the college experience.

More concretely, I had to manage school breaks and holidays, each time figuring out where I would go and who I would stay with. At times, I  remained on campus during the winters and summers while my peers headed home. Additionally, I had a particular issue managing the exposure to alcohol, trying to wrap my mind around fun and safe partying when substance abuse robbed me of my childhood.

“Do I belong here?” was a question I often grappled with, as would any 18-year-old, but it was exponentially more potent for me with the overlay of a traumatic family background.

4. Looking back, is it clear to you that without intervention your experience would not have been the same?

I would have made it through Bowdoin without the wonderful support of Allen Delong, but it would not have been the same. Allen gave me an on-campus job where I could also study. Once we connected, I no longer had to remove myself from the experience of Bowdoin in order to make ends meet. Another inuence was my cross country and track coach, Peter Slovenski, who welcomed me to the team (even though I wasn’t very good) and even employed me at his summer camp.

From there, I was able to take advantage of on-campus resources. I began to heal by attending counseling, building a cohort of close friends and mentors, and participating in internships. Looking back, I feel like I learned how to be normal. I surrounded myself with people to look up to — peer models I could observe — and I learned what it is like to be okay.

5. What else would have helped you while you were in college?

I wish I had a “Wily Network” back then. I had to learn a lot of lessons by trial and error. I wish there had been a program for students in my  situation who were attending the school.

6. Is there anything more you’d like the public to know about why they should invest in Wily Scholars?

Even at the best schools, like Bowdoin, some people fall through the cracks. I’m lucky. I wish more people like me had the chance to succeed; I’ve seen many people end up going down the wrong path.

Look around at your peers and colleagues. Statistically, only 10% of students with backgrounds like mine make it to college, and only 3% ever
graduate. It’s much easier to give up than to make it through.

If students aren’t able to build coping mechanism skills for trauma at this pivotal juncture, the likelihood of being a productive member of society post-college is severely diminished. My story is an anomaly, and that is why I am so passionate about working with the Wily Network — because I want
to make it the norm.

Wondering How to Fit It All in Your College Schedule?

College is full of amazing experiences–classes, clubs, sports, campus spots and activities. It is also full of readings, minor tasks, pop quizzes, and exams. Add to that a part-time job, volunteer work, group studies–you name it.  How are you supposed to fit it all into your schedule?

Well, there are many ways to keep track of your activities.  Want our advice on one of the best investments you can make in your life?  Buy a physical, paper planner. The best paper planners include monthly, weekly, and daily (30-min slots) divisions.  

If you can take a power hour every week to organize, using your planner, you will be amazed at how much more you can accomplish.  Not only will you spend less time wondering how to proceed, you will also be more present in every activity. By knowing you are doing something you planned for and that you have set aside time to accomplish other tasks, you won’t have to worry over whether you should be studying while you are having dinner with a friend.    

Follow these steps and tips to make the most of this new miracle in your life:

  1. Make a habit of using the paper planner: Digital tools are perfectly fine, and in fact it’s great if you want to combine both sets of tools.  But sometimes the old-fashioned way is the best way. Quickly jotting down and erasing tasks and events on paper can be helpful for remembering them.  
  2. Set a weekly planning hour in stone: To make the most of this tool, set aside an hour each week to sit down, alone, and take the time to organize your week. The first couple of times might be a little overwhelming. Over time, it will become easier, and you will develop the system that works best for you. It is important to be flexible, but this is the hour you want to keep as consistent as possible in your week. Get organized for the next week, and you will feel less scattered.
  3. Use a pencil: Putting color and personality into your planner might help you cheer up and feel more inspired. The tasks themselves should be written in pencil. It is easier and definitively prettier if you can quickly erase and shift or substitute a task. It also helps you think of your plans as flexible.
  4. Organize monthly, weekly, and daily: Begin by setting all your big events and due dates on the monthly view of your calendar. Then, set those up for each week. Break tasks down into daily activities, especially those bigger projects. Remember to make time for all the important people and activities in your life. School work should not be the only thing in your calendar, at least not all the time.  
  5. Take a look at your agenda after waking up and before going to sleep: By making a habit of looking at your agenda first thing in the morning, your brain can prepare better for the day. At night, make sure to celebrate what you have accomplished and reschedule or reorganize anything you were unable to complete that day.  
  6. Be flexible and adjust: Things happen unexpectedly. Not everything will work out as planned. Don’t panic. Keep calm, and make sure to shift tasks around until you feel comfortable with Plan B.  

Finally, make sure you set realistic goals, and allow enough time for every task. Now that you have this new tool, take advantage of it and keep putting effort into completing those tasks as efficiently as possible. Remember, if you learn to plan and execute well, there will be time for working hard and playing hard.   

Go, try it out! Then, schedule in a few minutes to tell us about your experience or if you have any questions.  

Check out these links for more tips:

10 Tips to Deal with Stress

Three out of 10 college students reported that stress had a negative impact on their academic performance, according to the 2018 National College Health Assessment. Instead of ignoring stress, let’s embrace it, acknowledge it, and attempt to relieve at least some of it!! While you will inevitably encounter stress during your college years, it’s important to learn how to manage it when it arises. If left unattended, stress can impact not only your grades, but also your overall mental health and well-being. To help you out, the Wily Network has compiled our top 10 favorite tips for handling stress at school. Hopefully they help or at least give you a break from studying!

  1. Practice Healthy Stress Management.

Junk food and social media breaks are quick fixes… in moderation. Stress can last for weeks. That’s why you want to adopt sustainable stress management techniques that will help you in the long run. Keep on reading for some suggestions!

  2. Get outside.

Although studying in bed can be comfy cozy, it makes a world of difference to take a break and get some FRESH AIR!! It doesn’t have to be a jog down the Charles–just a walk around the block or to grab a bite to eat can clear your head and wake you up a bit!

  3. Put down the coffee.

While coffee might seem like your best friend during midterms, numerous studies have linked caffeine consumption to increased levels of stress. If you can’t go cold turkey, aim to limit your consumption to just one cup a day.    

  4. Meet up with a friend.

One of the best parts about college is that friends are never far away. Find that friend who will motivate you, but not distract you too much, and maybe even provide the occasional meme exchange or laugh. Social interaction is a nice way to relieve some pressure and take your eyes off screens and books.

  5. Catch up on sleep.

All-nighters may seem like the solution to your cram sesh, but no good ever comes from exhaustion during an exam!! It is much better to get some sleep and wake up early to study! Sleep deprivation makes it harder to retain information. Make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep to minimize your chances of blanking on a test question.

  6. Watch puppy videos.

Yes, puppy videos are good all the time, but they are BETTER when you’re knee-deep in studying. Seriously, a study done by Deborah Wells found that watching videos of animals encourages relaxation. No need to feel guilty next time you watch funny videos of cats and dogs!   

  7. Remember your purpose.

Why are you taking this class? What do you want to get out of college? Where do you want to be in five years? The answers to these questions may help motivate you to persevere through tough tests and long papers.

  8. Turn off your screens.

Studies have found that regular computer use without breaks can lead to higher levels of stress and sometimes headaches. Netflix and social media might be tempting, but make sure to also schedule some screen-free time to minimize stress and clear your head.

  9. Get organized.

Organization doesn’t just mean planning your calendar, it also means getting into a healthy routine. Even simple things like a regular sleep schedule and cleaning your dorm room can promote stability and get you in the right headspace for study sessions.  

  10. Appreciate your progress.

It’s easy to forget how hard you’ve worked to get to this point, so take a minute to appreciate the incredible progress you’ve made so far. Sometimes making a checklist of stuff you can easily do and crossing them right off can be a nice source of relief.

Taking time away from the books may seem counterintuitive when you’re overwhelmed with readings and tests, but sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for yourself. Stress is a normal part of the college experience, but with the right techniques you can successfully manage it and thrive under the pressure.

Great Places to Study In and Around Boston

Studying is the common denominator of the student life, and this is especially true during finals season.  The good news is there are dozens of places in and around Boston to inspire you in your studies.


Explore your Campus

Most, if not all university campuses, include green areas, libraries, and ultra-hidden studying spots.  Make the most of yours. Switch places to give yourself some color and comfort while studying.


Libraries For All

There are plenty of libraries and bookstores that will surely fit your requirements.  These two are great choices you can try.

  • Boston Public Library: This is a classic.  Pay a visit to its central building and bunker down in one of its many beautiful areas.  Or, visit one of its 24 branches. BPL provides spaces for all preferences, from group-study areas to silent spots.  Other library services include Wi-Fi, printing and in-library laptop loans.
  • Cambridge Public Library: If BPL is a little too crowded for you, try this instead.  This library offers plenty of sitting room and quiet areas for a power session.


Coffee Shops and Sweet Spots

As you might have noticed, there are seven thousand Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts locations crowding Boston. But Boston is home to hundreds of unique coffee shops.  Here are some other places that are worth checking out. That’s if you don’t mind a little noise:


Nature Pleasures

If you enjoy basking in nature and studying outside, consider these.  

  • Charles River Esplanade: Particularly during the warmer days of the year, sitting close to the waterfront can soothe your active mind.  Pack your things and come alone or with friends to study on the docks overlooking the river or at the Fiedler Fields.  The Esplanade path for walkers, runners, and bikers adds an extra benefit if you need an energy boost mid-studying.
  • Boston Common: What better way to learn history than where it happened.  America’s oldest public park’s purpose has changed over the years.  Today, you can sit near the spots where Pope John Paul II and Martin Luther King Jr. gave speeches and are within walking distance from other historical landmarks and the Boston Public Garden.
  • Arnold Arboretum: These 281 acres of green beauty serve as a sanctuary for nature and a good spot to take a break from the city’s buzz.  Pack a book or some notes and study among nature in this part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace. You can also use the facilities in the Hunnewell building including restrooms, a museum, and a library.

Did we miss anything? Share with us your favorite places to study in and why in the comments.  

#GivingTuesday Is More than a Hashtag

For the past six years, the charitable season has started with a new milestone: #GivingTuesday. It has become a new phenomenon that takes aim at the commercialism of the holiday season and is a chance for us to think about those less fortunate and how we can help. It’s not just a chance to brag on social media about donating to a cause, but it’s an opportunity to leave a mark on an organization (or 12!) that is helping care for many.


For the Wily Network, we rely on the giving spirit that’s in the air between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. It’s when we receive many gifts that can quickly be used to help a Wily Scholar get through the holidays or start the spring semester off right.


Here are some numbers from the 2017 #GivingTuesday that better illustrate how much of a difference one day can make:

  • 21.7 billion online impressions – That means people are talking, sharing, and spreading lots of information. We need you all to get online and talk us up!


  • 2.5 million gifts – That’s a lot of gifts! If even just 30 of those came to us, it’ll make a difference for our scholars.


  • $120.40 was the average gift – That’s right, while a lot of people are giving $20, there’s so many more that are cutting big checks, even into the thousands of dollars! Just think, $100 buys a scholar that new winter coat they need, or $250 will pay for their meals on break.


  • Over $300 million raised – As much as we’d like a chunk of that, we’re modest in that we’re taking small, but meaningful, steps to help our scholars. Our goal for #GivingTuesday 2018 is $10,000.


It’s A Tough Time For Wily Scholars

All jokes aside, the giving season and #GivingTuesday is critical for helping Wily Scholars. It’s during this time of year that they don’t have families to visit on Thanksgiving, they don’t have anyone to hit store lines with at 6 a.m., and many just don’t have the happiest of holidays. With a little help, we can give them the extra support they need as college finals keep them busy, but thoughts of the holidays distract them.


While you’re out and about on Black Friday and cuddled up on Cyber Monday, use your savings on #GivingTuesday to make a difference. By all means, don’t just give to us, but to other causes important to you and your family during the holidays. Just know that every dime we get means the world to us.

Expressing Gratitude over the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving is the beginning of the winter holiday season, and many students look forward to the long weekend packed with food, family, and friends. For some students, going home is not an option. This year marks the Wily Network’s third annual Thanksgiving celebration on November 18, bringing together students from across the Wily community for an evening of food and fun. In addition to the celebration, Wily also hosts a Thanksgiving lunch in Boston and connects Wily scholars to caring gift givers throughout the holiday season.

If you find yourself staying on campus this Thanksgiving, here are a few ideas for things you can do to celebrate the holiday.

Ways to spend your Thanksgiving time:

  • Celebrate “Friendsgiving”: See who else is planning to stay on campus over the weekend. You might be surprised by how many students stick around over the holidays. Try to organize a “friendsgiving” get-together for a dinner, lunch, or fall festivity. At the Wily Network, we host a group dinner each month at a different Boston restaurant and also organize Sunday activities for our Scholars.
  • Explore the city: Boston has so much to offer during the fall season, and there is always something happening in the city. Start planning your weekend by visiting Boston’s official events calendar.
  • Write thank-you notes: The value of a handwritten thank-you letter is often underestimated.  Spend some time writing short notes or emails to those you care about. No need to write a lot, just make sure it’s personal. Friends, professors, and mentors will love receiving a personal note and truly appreciate it. Click here to learn more about writing a thoughtful thank-you note.
  • Get ahead in school: It’s never too late to catch up or do some work in advance.  It seems like a boring way to spend vacation time, but you will thank yourself when you are cruising along throughout finals. The not-so-big secret is that the end-of-semester stress usually kicks in right after Thanksgiving.         

We want to know what you are grateful for.  Tell us what you’re giving thanks for this holiday season in the comments.  


DIY Halloween Costumes for College Students

For many students, learning how to budget their money is one of the toughest learning curves when transitioning to college. Greater independence means more freedom and more responsibility. The Wily Network is here to help our Scholars navigate new financial responsibilities. Wily Connects Scholars to financial assistance and management tools, which include a financial literacy program designed to develop skills such as financial planning and budgeting.

Halloween is a great opportunity to practice your budgeting skills by getting creative. You get to decide how much to spend on your great costume, so here are some tips for creating an original and affordable Halloween outfit.

  • Get thrifting: If you’re looking for a costume under $10, then look no further than local thrift stores. Stores like Goodwill* often set up their shops for Halloween, making it easy to find the perfect costume.
  • Be creative: You’re only limited by the scope of your imagination – take a look at DIY Halloween Costumes for College Students to get some inspiration.
  • Check your wardrobe: Do an inventory of your existing wardrobe to see if anything you already have can be repurposed into a costume–all it takes is a little out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Host a costume swap: Many people buy a new costume each year, never to be used again and left to collect dust in closets. Organize a Halloween trade by getting a group of friends together and asking them to bring old costumes and accessories.


What’s your DIY inspiration? Have any tips to share? Comment below and let us know.

*Note: I am working with Goodwill for school credit with BU’s PRLab (a student-run PR agency). I hope there’s no conflict but genuinely believe they have great, affordable costumes for everyone.


USA Today – College Programs for Students who have aged out of care

Lorenzo Mauldin’s from Foster Care to NFL Player

Read this interesting article about a foster care child, who was drafted by the New York Jets. Click Here

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