Anthony Mendez was placed next to First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2015 State of the Union address.
At the State of the Union address in 2015, Anthony Mendez — the homeless kid who’d made it to college — sat next to Michelle Obama. He was the “poster child” for “beating the odds,” writes Mendez in a painfully honest essay in Vox. A few months later, he flunked out of college.
He’d failed every course in his first semester at the University of Hartford, but got a second chance because of the White House attention, Mendez writes. Despite added support, he couldn’t handle the academics. At the end of the year, he was out.
Mendez grew up in the South Bronx. His mother was on welfare. His alcoholic father was absent. In his first year of high school, his best friend was shot and killed on a trip to the convenience store.
Halfway through the (sophomore) year, my mother got news that we were being evicted. We were forced to move into a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, miles away from my home. During our multi-month stay at the shelter, I had to wake up at before 4:30 every morning to make it to school on time. I would often get back home close to midnight because of track practice at night.
A nonprofit called iMentor provided a mentor who helped him stay focused in high school and apply to college. Nominated by iMentor, Mendez was invited to the opening of Reach Higher, Michelle Obama’s initiative to inspire students to go to college.
The summer after he flunked out, he was a Reach Higher “ambassador.” He was embarrassed to tell the truth.
. . . this is not a story of how I overcame everything to reach success. This is just me telling the truth. This is me finally letting go of all the pain and weight I hold in my heart of not wanting to disappoint anybody.
Mendez is now a full-time student at LaGuardia Community College while working almost 40 hours per week at a coffee shop.
Mendez has plenty of grit. What he lacked was preparation for college-level academics.