“There’s a difference between being poor and being low-income. Poor is a state of mind. Low-income is a socioeconomic status. I’m not going to say ‘woe is me’. I’m not going to give up.”
Kyle, University of Chicago
Hometown: Palm Bay, Florida
Kyle Wickham grew up in Palm Bay, Florida in a single-parent household. An only child, he and his mother were very close. His mother never went to college, and worked in fast food restaurants her whole life.
“I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be low-income until high school, when I got my own job working at McDonalds,” he says. Growing up, he struggled to understand why people made fun of him because he didn’t have name-brand shoes. Ashamed, he pushed it aside and pretended like it wasn’t part of him, and until he began working for himself, he says he realized there was never anything to be ashamed of.
“I gained a lot more being low-income than if I hadn’t been,” says Kyle. “Life would have been easier in some regards, I wouldn’t have been teased, I wouldn’t have had to live in an apartment when my friends lived in houses, or even had to get a job. But I learned the value of more things, and I learned to work hard for everything,” he says.
Kyle attended a public high school and was part of the International Baccalaureate program. He also graduated 2nd in his class. Most students’ plans included going to state schools in Florida, but Kyle knew there was an opportunity for him to do more, to seek more.
“No one was saying they wanted to go to Ivies; it seemed far-fetched,” Kyle said. “They weren’t pushing students into top colleges. And I started to adopt that, too.”
Until, Kyle says, he heard of QuestBridge — an older student was admitted to Vassar through the program — and he knew it was his chance.
“Not to say state schools weren’t good,” he says. “But I felt I could do more.”
Kyle attributes 100% of his motivation to his mom. “From an early age I can remember her telling me that she wanted me to have a life her mom couldn’t give her. Her family lived in a bus, they had to be nomads.”
“She emphasized school from the beginning,” Kyle continues. “It was hard for her to find jobs because she hadn’t gone to college.”
So Kyle decided he wanted to make her proud, and do something good for himself. But it meant the possibility of leaving Florida. When Kyle told his mother he was ranking colleges outside of the state through QuestBridge, she began crying, sad that he was going to be leaving her.
“I’m only applying to be a Finalist,” Kyle told her. “Only so many get matched, and only so many even get in.”
But his mother said: “You’re going to get it.”
She ended up being right. Kyle matched with University of Chicago.
“My mom always believed in me even when I didn’t,” Kyle said. He adds that getting matched was one of the — if not the — best moment of his life.
“All that hard work I’d done all my life, moved around a lot, having to get a job because I had to help pay the bills when my friends were out playing sports…I made it,” Kyle says.
At UChicago, Kyle is thankful for the opportunity to pursue what he really loves. At first, he knew he wanted to study something in math or science, but he wasn’t sure what. Now, having had the chance to shadow a doctor, he knows he wants to pursue medicine. He currently works in a hospital doing clinical research. Outside of his academic pursuits, he’s part of several groups on campus, including the QuestBridge Scholars Network and the Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance. He also does ballet.
Now, he says he can’t see himself at any other university, despite the fact that it was somewhat challenging at first. “I was figuring everything out on my own. Sometimes I didn’t know who to turn to…other students can ask their parents for help with essays and financial aid, jobs and internships, but I didn’t even know what a cover letter was,” he says.
What helped him to overcome that, he says, was his sense of pride, and not being afraid to be low-income and first generation college student.
“Society will tell me that that will hold me back, but I’m resilient and I have good qualities that have come out of these identities. So I can’t let that happen,” Kyle says.
“There’s a difference between being poor and being low-income,” he adds. “Poor is a state of mind. Low-income is a socioeconomic status. I’m not going to say ‘woe is me’. I’m not going to give up.”
Interviewed in Fall 2015