College  |  September 26, 2018  |  Mychal Wynn

My success story: How I became my family’s first college graduate

What you'll learn
  • How one educator became the first in his family to attend college

I was born in Pike County, Alabama and given up for adoption prior to my first birthday. I was raised in poverty on the South Side of Chicago, where I attended segregated public schools.

Early struggles

I began school as a slow learner with a speech impediment. My mother recounts a parent-teacher conference with my second grade teacher who presented my mother with a report card in which I had failed every subject and received a ‘U’ for unsatisfactory behavior. She went on to tell my mother that she thought I was so stupid that I would unlikely make it beyond elementary school.

At the end of the fifth grade, my mother scraped up enough money to enroll me into Corpus Christi Middle School with hopes that I would receive a better education. After graduating from middle school, I went on to attend De La Salle High School, one of the best high schools in the country. However, after fighting my way through my community as a result of being bullied for wearing my Catholic school uniform, I eventually fought my way right out of De La Salle and was expelled nearing the end of the first semester of my sophomore year.

My mother enrolled me into my zoned public high school, DuSable, one of the lowest performing high schools in the country, where out of a ninth grade class of 500 students, only 50 graduated and only 15 went on to attend four year colleges and universities.

My breakthrough

Lacking any college planning guidance, I applied to one college—Northeastern University because I thought their cooperative education program would allow me to work my way through college. I received a conditional acceptance requiring that I pass classes in physics and calculus. I enrolled at community college, earned an A in physics and a B in calculus.

"Since graduating from college, I have lived a life that was unimaginable as a child growing up amidst the violence and despair of Chicago’s south side."

With nothing more than a foot locker, I boarded my first flight. I landed at Boston’s Logan Airport in January 1975 and enrolled at Northeastern University. I went on to graduate cum laude in June of 1979 as my family’s first college graduate.

A life unimaginable

Since graduating from college, I have lived a life that was unimaginable as a child growing up amidst the violence and despair of Chicago’s South Side.

I have been employed as a financial systems analyst with IBM and Transamerica, I have taught students in elementary school through college, including incarcerated youth in the Los Angeles Juvenile Court Schools, and trained educators and parents for over 30 years. I have published 28 books and given motivational presentations to audiences throughout the United States and Bermuda.

Closing the college knowledge gap

While I should be retired, I am now having more fun than ever, working with students in a College Planning Cohort program that my wife and I designed to expand college access for students from lower income backgrounds, marginalized communities, and those who will be the first in their family to attend college.

As the Education Ministry Leader at the Turner Chapel AME Church in Marietta, Georgia and as the Founder/CEO of the Foundation for Ensuring Access and Equity, we are partnering with school districts and community colleges to close the “College Knowledge Gap” so that students and families are able to develop comprehensive college-bound plans to avoid or minimize student loan debt, while increasing college preparedness and on-time degree attainment.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.