Kicking off the New Year, we have a special interview with Dreamer Alum Jimmy Mejias. We hope that you will enjoy reading about his experiences!
What grade were you in when you became a Dreamer?
I believe 6th grade
What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school?
It gave me a sense of purpose. It gave me a feeling that there’s something in front of me that I can accomplish…When I learned that I was part of this fascinating group… It just gave me this feeling that this is a great opportunity for me. I felt like I had a system to keep me structured in school…There [were] different impacts to me overall as a person, but the immediate one was the feeling that I was part of something really special.
How big was your Dreamer class?
It consisted of two sixth grade classes…there was probably 30-35 students in each, so 60-70.
What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate?
I attended Seward Park High School, and I graduated in 1992.
Did you go to college/secondary school? If so, where and what did you study?
Originally, I attended Hunter [College]. I wanted to be a teacher at first, so I set myself up to major in education and then during the first two years of college…I had a chance to select an elective. It happened to be a business management class, and I was thrilled by what I was learning in that class. That was the first chance that I got to get a little taste of what business is, and from there everything else is history.
In that business management class…there was an assignment, sort of a like a project the professor did with us where we had to answer questions responding to characteristics about ourselves, and he would tally that up and tell us what business title was relevant to us. Based on our answers, he would tell us, “oh, you’re an accountant, or you’re an investor”…Mine came back as a senior accountant, and he attached a salary there…When I saw the salary, that’s when I started saying to myself “what is an accountant? I want to learn what that is!” And that’s what started my journey to where I am now…Then I started learning what business is, and said “wait a second! Everything around us is a business!”...so I thought that this work role is pretty secure, meaning I’d always have an opportunity to have a job, and there’s always new ventures in front of me, and this is why I chose to go that route.
Did you graduate from Hunter?
I didn’t graduate from Hunter. I did one year in Hunter and then I transferred to a school called Boricua College…The reason I went there is that I wanted to improve my grades. When I was at Hunter, I didn’t take school seriously. I just went to school for a financial aid check…I always had a natural linkage to school, which [I Have A Dream] instilled in me, that education is valuable and you need to go get it. That’s the most that I’ve learned from the “I Have A Dream” Foundation, that just stuck with me forever and that’s also a huge part of who I am today…
So I wasn’t doing too good in Hunter, I wasn’t doing horrible, but I wasn’t taking school too as serious as I was supposed to. I was a mediocre student at Hunter, then I transferred to Boricua College to get my grades up, and then after I got my Associate’s from there, I moved on to Baruch [College]. That’s when I started to get real serious and started kicking butt in school. I loved school, I did anything for school, that was my life.
What do you do now?
I work with a particular business account called a merchant account – that’s a business account that allows businesses to accept debit and credit card transactions from the customers. That’s what my career is – I open those accounts, and once I open them, I manage them and whatever else comes with the territory, that’s my work role.
What have been some exciting experiences for you since leaving high school?
I had a lot of exciting experiences…we can start with my first work role, which can focus on my growth…during high school, I had some close friends…our first job ever, we were messengers, and we used to do that for two hours every day, Monday through Friday. We had the same route every day and we earned $45 a week pay. We did it with dignity, you know, we did it with passion, and when we wanted to buy our little goodies, we had to buy it one week at a time. We used to do this together.
When I graduated high school…I didn’t jump right into Hunter, I took a one-year break…I always knew, deep down in my heart, that I was going to go to college, and I was going to finish college, and I want to have a real work role. I’ve always known that in my heart. When I finished high school, I was so excited that I had graduated, I had my high school diploma, and then…[I wanted] to take a little break and having a nice, full-time job …I had the opportunity to be an administrative assistant for the Henry George School of Science…I was also a bank teller, I did some factory work at a steel factory in the grinding department.
"I always knew, deep down in my heart, that I was going to go to college, and I was going to finish college, and I want to have a real work role. I’ve always known that in my heart."
When I used to work on the machines in the factory, the foreman used to let me be with my textbooks by the machine. That was when I was at Baruch, so they knew I majored in accounting…I would tell them, “I got a lot of things to read, would I be able to read it by the machines as I work? Can I walk and chew gum, is that ok?” And they would say “that’s fine, Jim, as long as you don’t back up, if you can read while the machine is flowing, that’s fine.” I used to be in the factory with accounting textbooks, with management textbooks, and reading them depending on what I had to do with school.
There even came a point where they offered to take me to get a license, to take me to school to do advanced grinding….I told them no, I loved the offer, I appreciated the offer, but I wanted to be an accountant…The “I Have A Dream Program” instilled in me – if you envision something, if you have a dream, step forward and make it happen. Anyone might have been, like, “$28 an hour? That’s ok, that’s fine!” But I just passed it on…I [wanted] to continue to go to school…
I was an auditor, I used to do internal audits, that was a great experience for me. I used to visit different businesses and do audits…My fiancé just came to me and she said “they ask you to talk about something exciting and you talk about your past work roles!” [Laughter]
I think one of the most exciting things was when I got accepted to Baruch. That was big in my life. That was real big. That was the school I wanted to go to the most, that was the #17 business school in the country…I had to take an exam to get in there, and when I learned that I passed and was accepted, that was one of the most exciting times in my younger days.
How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it?
This is a program where the intentions are very, very special and what they do is they provide structure to a set of students...They guide you on making your achievements to make it to the next step.
What they do is, it’s like an additional crutch, it’s like a set of crutches - they’re going to be there for you to lean on, they’re going to guide you to do things the right way, especially in school…they’re going to guide you in how to take care of your studies, they’re going to show you the tutoring programs, they’re going to set up the tutoring programs, they’re going to provide structure to keep everyone interacting, there’s celebrating, there’s Thanksgiving, there’s dinners, Christmas, huddles, gift-giving.
This is structure…for example, if you’re a youngster, and you come from a low-income family, just like me – I’m not saying I was dirt poor, but I sure didn’t have everything – so someone like me, that can be a motivator, it can be like “hey, you know what? I got mommy and daddy at home, and I like school, but I got the “I Have A Dream Foundation” too. They support me! I got counselors I can talk to on a daily basis. I can talk to them, I can share with them, and they always got something in line for us.” Every time. And it’s true! That’s how I looked at it. It’s a program where they’re going to give you all the resources for you to elevate.
What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer?
My favorite memories of being a Dreamer…just knowing that I have people on my side for me to take the next step, that was so comforting mentally. I had no fears when it came to school, because I was like “I got Sam Sanchez on my side, I got Mrs. Brooks on my side.” That’s the honest truth. I remember, for example, how they used to get us high school folders when we were in Junior high school level. They were telling us that we had to show them folders of high schools that we were interested in, that it was time! There are deadlines! You got tell us! You gotta look for it! That’s just an example, they were there, they were available to us. That was the time where students get lost, maybe they’re parents don’t make it so important of an issue, and rather them go to a high school that they were really interested in, they would go to a zone high school, just because it was really uncoordinated, the search.
"I had no fears when it came to school, because I was like 'I got Sam Sanchez on my side, I got Mrs. Brooks on my side.'”
Another thing - I used to love the huddle, when we used to do things like the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, just seeing everybody there. That always kept my heart warm – I always used to say to myself, “look, all of us are here, and this is just great.” I just loved the fact that they kept us together as the years went by, sixth, seventh, eight, ninth, when high school came, everybody scattered. But still, they maintained us together. How? With structure. With a trip here and there. With a huddle, with a meeting, with a reunion, those are the things that made me happy.
As a student, I had a natural connection with school. I loved school…you didn’t have to tell me to [work hard in school.] The program taught me that education was valuable. That’s what it taught me…Education is a must and you have to do it if you want the best of things in this world. That’s what it taught me, simple and plain. That’s what I got out of it.
What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York?
My mom is grateful…my mom knows Sam Sanchez. My mom probably looked at him, not like a dad to me, but she would look at him like “man, this is the adult that guided my son in the right direction in school.” So, I would say she’s highly grateful.
What advice do you have for current Dreamers?
I’m an advocate for education, you understand? So my advice to them is just finish your school, keep in touch with your peers, keep the friendship alive, and keep your involvement in the program, because this is until the end of the rainbow. There is no end.
The opportunities that they have, they’re part of a program that’s providing them structure to get to the end of the rainbow as far as school’s concerned. They have to do that, [I Have A Dream] sets the path for them, but they’re the ones that have to make it happen for themselves. But if they do, everything after that will fall into place…
Keep the dream alive! That’s my advice.