Servon Lewis, featured Student of the Month
Servon Lewis graduated February 2012 from the Per Scholas IT-Ready training. He has since become one of the greatest success stories in the school’s history and for that was selected to be the keynote student speaker at the 2013 ROI Corporate Dinner honoring CIO of Barlcays and Per Scholas board member, Joe Squeri. His speech was worth sharing. On June 12, 2013, Servon Lewis took the stage:
Good evening. My name is Servon Lewis. I’m a 2012 graduate of Per Scholas and now I work full-time for Neuberger Berman. I’m honored to be here tonight to tell you my story, show my gratitude for Per Scholas, and help raise awareness of all the positive influence they have on the lives of young people like me.
Let me tell you a little about my story. I’m a native New Yorker, raised in the Bronx. Growing up, I lived with my mother, my father, 4 brothers, one sister and two of my cousins in the Monroe housing projects.
As you can imagine, we didn’t have much money. But when I was a little kid, life wasn’t too hard. At least in my opinion. My Dad worked as a mail delivery truck driver, and made just enough so that my Mom could stay home and take care of the seven of us — since day care wasn’t exactly an option.
My family was close— and not just because we lived on top of each other. There was always love and support, even with minimal means. We never felt like we had a lot, but we always managed to scrape by.
Then one day, ten years ago, my Dad had an accident. He was driving on an icy road and lost control. The truck flipped over and he nearly lost his life. He would have died if it weren’t for an off-duty medic driving right behind him, who stopped and saved his life.
It’s still hard to think about. The fear of losing him was so intense. I was so relieved when the doctors told us he would live. But they also told us that my Dad would never work again. He’d suffered a severe back injury. My mother still had seven kids to care for… and no job for herself. So, after that, the only income supporting our entire family came from Social Security and Worker’s Comp. We had to rely on food stamps and other assistance to get by. We struggled to get food, clothes, school supplies, and other necessities. Then they took the food stamps away. After that, it was even more of a challenge. And Christmases and birthdays — forget about it! But my family stuck together and supported each other.
I don’t want to tell you a long sad story, but life in the Bronx wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for most families that lived there. In the projects where I grew up, it’s just like you hear on TV about drugs and gangs — and a lot more that you don’t hear. My brothers, two cousins, my sister, and I had to walk past gangs to get to school. Basically, you grow up too fast when you live in the projects. But even when things were most chaotic, I was able to keep my grades in the 80s and 90s, even 100s. So I thought I was all set.
I couldn’t wait to get a decent job so I could help my mom and dad. But I didn’t know how to go about it. I didn’t know where or how to look… who to ask… or how to put a resume together. So there weren’t many opportunities. In all that time, my best job was at a grocery store, making minimum wage. The hours were only part-time — and of course, there were no benefits. In the meantime, things at home were getting harder. Prices kept going up, but you don’t get a raise when you’re living on disability.
I tried… and I tried… to get a decent job, but after a while, I just sort of gave up. I felt embarrassed and defeated, and I stopped looking for something better.
But one day, that changed. It was just another day of sitting around watching TV. But this time, I saw a man being interviewed about how he started out with nothing… and was able to come up in the world — just by working hard.
And something clicked.
I realized that I couldn’t just give up. I couldn’t sit at home and wait for an opportunity to knock on my door. I had to go out and find it. And that’s when I remembered Per Scholas.
A few years before, I’d heard about Per Scholas through my mother. I thought nothing of it when she first shared it with me. I wasn’t in a mindset to care back then. But on this day, when Per Scholas popped into my head, it was like a sign saying, “This is the way.”
I called Per Scholas. I applied. And luckily, they accepted me. This was my first step in a new direction. My parents were so happy for me, and so was I.
Per Scholas offers a quality education! The program is tough. They have a no-tolerance policy for things like attendance and lateness. Even grades had to stay at a high average, so I knew I needed to be on my best game for this one.
The training is rigorous — and teaches us how to become IT professionals, starting with the basic foundation: Where’s the mother board? Where’s the RAM? And then we move on to data recovery and virus removal — and further on to networking and cloud computing. They taught me SO MUCH!
On top of the hands-on tech course they have a class called life skills – and for me, that was probably the most important class of my life. It taught me the mindset you should bring to work and tips on how to hold down a job and move up. Per Scholas helped prepare me for interviews, and coached me to be confident in myself.
While I was at Per Scholas, my parents did the best they could to help me. But sometimes there wasn’t enough. Most days I’d live through the whole school day off a bagel — or a pack of cinnamon rolls from the vending machine — because they only cost a dollar. I was hungry. But it didn’t matter; I wasn’t there to eat; I was there to learn.
Per Scholas knows where their students are coming from. That’s why they offer this free school. But what meant the most to me was the ways they helped me, individually — and without making me feel ashamed that I needed it. They bought me a metro card when I needed one to get to my interviews. They even bought me a suit — tailored and everything! I love that suit! I wore it to every interview, every event. I wore it to everything. And the best thing I wore it to was my interview at Neuberger Berman.
That was February, last year, after I graduated from Per Scholas. The interview was for a 10-week IT Desktop Support internship. I can still remember how I felt when I arrived. The place was humongous, everyone was so nice, and the people who worked there were so cool. I really wanted that job — and I was so excited when I got it.
Even though I had to move, and get a car, and learn a whole new way of life, I knew that I was going to do whatever it took. And because of Per Scholas, I knew what to do. I knew how to excel on the job. I show up on time. I’m a team player. I bring a positive attitude. I say yes to any work you need me to do. I WANT to work. I WANT to succeed!!
And so far, it’s going really well! Not only did I finish that 10 week internship, Neuberger Berman kept me on. And now I work full-time, with pay that I never dreamed of making — ever. It is difficult for me to admit out loud, but I make more money than my entire family – combined.
My life has changed, and I’m never going to stop working hard — it’s what got me here.
My mother, father, and grandmother are incredibly proud of me today. I give them so much respect for all their love and support. They’re totally the best. And what’s really cool is that my mother said that she was inspired by me to do her best at Bronx Community College, where she’s now an honors student. I am so proud of her!
Today, things are very different for me. I have my own place, in New Jersey. I have my own car. I give back to my family. And the family I hope to raise one day will grow up in a safe area.
When I was a kid and my parents used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, “I want to be the boss.” And — with what I’ve learned from Per Scholas and Neuberger Berman — I plan to make that dream come true.
So I want to say thank you with all my heart. Thank you, Per Scholas, for investing in me and thousands of others. And to those that support them.
My experience is not unique. All of my classmates have their own stories and challenges. But YOU give those stories a happy ending. Your Impact changed my life. And every day, for the rest of my life, whatever I achieve will be a return on your generous investment.
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