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Pursuit of Happiness

“This part of my life… this part right here. This is called happiness.”

-Chris Gardner

There have been moments in my life where I have struggled intensely — moments where I questioned my resolve to go on. I have dealt with poverty, watched my mother’s life drain from cancer, and suffered abuse at the hands of my father. The critical years of my life were filled with strife. It all felt like a constant exam, one in which the odds were stacked against me. I distinctly recall moments where I’d find myself crying in the corner of my room at night, and I also clearly remember when my tears no longer flowed because they felt frivolous.

However, I noticed a distinct change in myself after my mother passed away. I noticed a growing desire for something in my life, although I did not fully understand what it was at the time. Looking back on myself now, I realize that desire was to create a better life for myself. In retrospect, I was tired of shedding tears over my hardships, those tear stains dried on my face and left resolve in their wake.

I was working a paid internship at a Biotech company during the summer of my sophomore year of high school. I was making a decent amount of money, and I was proud of the work that I was doing. I decided to show my father my check; this decision changed everything. He asked for twenty dollars of the check. He did not congratulate me, offer kind words, or express that he was proud of me. At the time he was sporting both a substance and alcohol addiction, and the first thing he did was request twenty dollars.

I can’t exactly explain what came over me in that moment, but what I do know is that I was filled with rage — brimming with rebellion. I’d had enough. I recalled all of his physical abuse, the emotional attacks, all of the broken promises he had given me during my time living with him, and I was filled to the boiling with anger. At that moment, I responded with a dice roll — an incredibly dangerous answer that made me fear for my well being. I simply said, “No.”

Time stopped, and after that brief pause, “you’re no longer my son,” he said to me, after spitting in my face, I recoiled from the act. This act of disrespect meant more to me than the years of physical and emotional abuse he put me through. This was not a physical attack, or a verbal attack; it was worse. It was the complete disrespect of my person. I was already slated to work the morning I showed him my check, and so I responded to him the only way I could think of at the moment: “Okay, you said it, not me.” I called my grandparents during work, informed my bosses of the incident, and let my school know that I was leaving my father’s home.

This was the best decision of my life.

After standing up to my father and leaving my home, things started to fall into place for me. I took my work at my internship twice as seriously, and when the school year started, I made a promise to myself that I would be the best student at my high school that I possibly could. I poured myself into my extracurriculars and became an avid gym goer;I was completely intent on bettering myself in every way I could . As time progressed I began noticing things shifting within me;I took pride in doing my homework, I didn’t mind staying after school late into the afternoon helping out with events, I noticed that I was losing weight. My life was improving.

The amount that I worked began to reach an almost feverish intensity. There were moments where I spent so much time on my activities outside of school that I fell asleep on top of my unfinished homework, and would wake up the next morning to complete the rest of it. I honestly believe that the period of my life after leaving my father’s home was the most productive I’ve ever been. This was not an entirely healthy dedication to my work — in fact, upon reflection, I realize that it was escapism. I was overworking to compensate for the negative things that were dancing in my head.

It was within this fever dream that my actual dreams began to materialize. I slowly began to realize just how to create a better life for myself; that better life I was pursuing was something that college could give me. I attended numerous programs that improved my college applications, and did research on the schools that appealed to me. During my senior year, I applied to numerous top-tier Universities, with the hope that someone, anyone, would accept me.

My dream of college was not attainable without the promise of a full scholarship, which is why college was such a gamble. Only a select handful of universities would offer a student with a need bracket as high as mine a full scholarship — as a result of this, my list of colleges was filled to the brim with the types of schools that would offer me this opportunity. I threw my hand onto the table after studying the cards, and I knew that fate would decide if my long hours of studying were worth it, and if all the hours I dedicated to my professional life would pay off.

The letters trickled in at a rate that left me stressed beyond my point of tolerance. I would constantly check my email and text my grandmother to see if letters arrived; I emailed schools and called their admissions offices. I needed to know how my future looked.

Marquette…accepted. Bowdoin…rejected. Dartmouth…rejected. Heart break twice over. Brandeis Myra Kraft Program…accepted on a full scholarship…my first major victory! Bates College…accepted on a full scholarship! My second victory! The rejections mattered very little to me, because I was already so proud of my scholarships. After I heard back from those schools, however, there was one school that I was still waiting for. My top choice, the choice that I fell in love with during a three week summer program. Georgetown University.

After what felt like the longest three days of my life, my grandmother checked the mail and walked into our house. She yelled out to me after a few minutes, “Emilio! There’s a letter from Georgetown in this pile!”

“How big is it?” I quickly replied.

“Tiny.” My world shattered. From most colleges, a small letter means a big rejection — broken, I walked to the letter and looked at it for a moment, hesitant to rip it open. Before long my desire to know the definitive answer overwhelmed my fear of rejection, and alongside my grandmother, I read aloud:

“Dear Mr. Joubert,

It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the Committee on Admissions has voted to accept your application for admission to Georgetown University. I am happy to offer you a place in the first-year class of 2015.”

The big one. Georgetown said yes. They offered me a full scholarship and participation in their scholarship program, in addition to a summer program so that I could be fully immersed in their school. Shocked, my grandmother and I hugged, followed by me informing my grandfather and all of us celebrating.

They soon left to take care of errands, leaving me home alone with my letter to read over and over again. I studied its words, and realized that I was no longer a tentative high school student; I was no longer afraid of the unknown that follows college applications, or of financial aid. I was set, and my dream, or rather, my dream at the time, had been accomplished. I hooked up the stereo system to my phone, and blasted The Believer by Common as loud as I possibly could. The lyrics, “Like a thief in the night, I write the beacons of light For those of us in dark alleys and parched valleys” really stuck out to me, and led me to shed a few tears. It was overwhelming.

I remembered the pain of my childhood: the difficulty of bouncing from house to house, the lack of food. I looked at my acceptance letter and realized that my children would never have to deal with that. This little piece of paper that came packed in a tiny envelope assured me that I would never have to call poverty my prison. My future was given an insurance policy for no money at all, and my dream blew open — college was no longer my goal, I made it in. My dream became, and is still to this day, to make sure no child has to go through the same struggle that I did in order to ultimately succeed. I will do everything in my power to ensure that I can offer a better life to anybody affected by poverty, violence, or any other ills that befall the people that populate my homes of Lawrence and Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Is it an unlikely goal? Potentially impossible? Perhaps, but Georgetown was just a dream to me three years ago, and look where I am today.

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