“I grew up with a single mother in low-income housing,” said Antonio Gutierrez, age 22. “My mother had to work full-time, and she wasn’t able to be around very much.”
In elementary school and middle school, Antonio was “a very poor student,” earning C’s and D’s. “I wouldn’t have caught up academically if it wasn’t for my high school,” Antonio acknowledged gratefully. He attended the illustrious Match Public Charter High School in a suburb of Boston, MA.
But as much as Match High School helped him, Antonio lists Summer Search as an even bigger influence on his life. “As a young man growing up, especially under the circumstances that I grew up in, I wasn’t used to opening up,” he said. “But Summer Search made me introspective about how I felt, for the first time. And that was huge for me,” Antonio laughed lightly, “since I went on to study philosophy.”
Antonio was granted a full educational scholarship to Union College in Schnectady, NY, where he majored in philosophy. “Majoring in philosophy really helped me with my analytical skills and my writing skills,” he said. “Right now, I’m focused on communications and public relations and fund-raising, so knowing how to articulate myself is really important.”
Antonio is the first person in his family to graduate from college. “My grandma had about 15 kids,” he said, “so I have a very large family. But no one ever pursued higher education – not my mother, and not my two older sisters – so I didn’t have anyone to give me the guidance. They all wanted me to do well, but they were only able to help me so much, because they just didn’t know. So I feel like Summer Search, especially through their mentoring, really helped give me what I needed to make it to college.”
Through Summer Search, Antonio did an Outward Bound trip in western Colorado, and then the next year he spent some time at the Virginia Military Institute. “I feel like the Colorado trip exposed me to really different kinds of people and to a totally new environment,” he said. “I had to learn quickly to adapt to different people and different circumstances. And I learned about the potential that I have to really push myself. And then when it came to V.M.I., I thought it seemed like a strange place to go at first, but Summer Search does a really good job of identifying and focusing skills, and I trust them, so I decided to go. And there I learned about my ability to lead people. And as it turns out, I ended up going back to V.M.I. for three summers while I was in college, to work for them, and to lead community service projects with their students.”
Antonio has always been civic minded in addition to his studies, and while at Union College, he started his own service program. And now that he’s graduated, he’s currently spending a year volunteering for AmeriCorps in Boston. Then, after his year with AmeriCorps, Antonio plans to go back to his high school and help them with administrative duties as they open an elementary school in the neighborhood.
“When people try to think of ways to change the lives of young people, I think they think they need some kind of magic formula,” Antonio said thoughtfully. “But it’s really not that magical. It’s actually kind of simple. You just need someone to be there for you, someone pushing you, someone to listen to you. And that’s what Summer Search did for me.”