Creating a culture of excellence

“Education is the cure for all our society problems”

I don´t know about your country but in my, this is the main thing that is repeated generation by generation here in Brazil, and every politician that comes, promises changing education but things never happen.  In this loved country, the public education system is quite perverse. Basically, there is “free” education for everybody, including public universities where nobody pays a single cent to study there (and some of them are decent). But here is what is quite perverse: public elementary school and public high schools are simply terrible, so the poor guys studying on public schools for the entire life simply cannot compete with the other guys coming from private schools, when it´s time to go to college. The college entrance exams for public universities are quite difficult so the chances for the poor guys are much worse and the majority of them ends up studying at night on private colleges (that are much worse than the public ones – with a few exceptions) and working during the day to be able to pay the college monthly fees. There are always the 1% cases of guys living in terrible places, studying in terrible schools and still getting into the best public colleges.

Gustavo Torres, a 17 years old guy was one of those cases. As a matter of fact, he exceeded by far the expections when he was accepted by several of the most prestigious universities in the USA (Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Duke) and chose Stanford. As you will be able to read at his essay below, he came from a pretty bad place (one of the biggest  and most dangerous”favelas” in São Paulo) .

So what is the point here on bringing Gustavo´s history to you that is reading me here? Gustavo was only able to succeed, because at some point in his life, he took  a test from an brazilian organization called Ismart and was accepted. Ismart gets the brightest students from public schools, where the family income is around half minimum wage per person (R$ 394,00 or ~100USD) and puts them at some the top brazilian private schools. But here is what is nice about Ismart: they are an non profit organization created by Marcel Telles, who is now one of the richest man in Brazil and  partners with Jorge Paulo Lemann and Beto Sicupira. Those 3 guys are quite famous nowadays as they made history when they bought Anheuser-Busch, Burguer King, Heinz and a few others. But with the exception of Lemann, they were not always rich! As a matter of fact, Sicupira used to work as an public agent in the past so it´s quite amazing to see that ordinary people can do great things when they decide to. What those 3 guys have been doing for Brazil is much more than government makes. They put a lot of their own money now in organizations related to education (Fundação Estudar, Fundação Lemann, Endeavor and others). And the culture of excellence they have created at their companies, is now spread all over those non profit organizations, changing the lives of thousands of brilliant poor people.

So before I let you read Gustavo´s essay , I suggest you to get some good examples like that and share with your kids. I am sure that those insipiring stories can make a lot of difference in their lives. I always try to do that specially now that the world is changing so quickly.

Proposal: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. (Word limit: 650)

“I like to compare life to a jigsaw puzzle. We are constantly looking for pieces to complete the inside of our borders, which are the values we define as our guidelines. While looking at my story, I learned that my community, Capão Redondo, had an essential impact on the way I pieced my life’s puzzle together. The adversities I faced in Capão Redondo ultimately inspired the persistence I needed to overcome challenges and define my own values.

During the ‘90s, the UN considered Capão Redondo one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. Although things here have improved, it’s still not a paradise. When I leave home at 5:30am to go to school, I often see men smoking marijuana next to my door. On the street, I have to keep a fast pace to avoid getting mugged. Drug trafficking, poor educational opportunities and, most notably, lack of dreams plague the community and create an environment where bad influences prevail. Surrounded by such an atmosphere, I realized early on that only perseverance would allow me to find the right pieces to expand my puzzle.

In 2010, I was awarded a scholarship to one of the best private schools in São Paulo through ISMART, an NGO that invests in talented young students. The school’s labs, pools and gyms contrasted significantly with the poor infrastructure of my previous school, where the majority of ceilings, desks and windows were broken. Against all odds, I flourished in this newfound environment and in the process, found a new set of puzzle pieces with which to work.

Although this school offered unique academic opportunities, it also provided a new social challenge. I entered a wealthy world, where people traveled abroad during vacations, went to beach houses on the weekends and celebrated parties at expensive venues. I didn’t exactly fit in there. While private chauffeurs drove my peers to school, I faced a two-hour long bus ride every day. As time passed, however, I adapted to that world and learned how to balance the contrasts between the two opposing realities I lived in.

The perseverance I learned from Capão and the opportunities ISMART offered me filled me with courage, drive and goals to succeed in a vastly different context. All of this culminated in one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life: participating in a summer program at Yale University. When I first learned about the program, I thought I would never be selected from such a competitive pool of applicants from all around the world. However, a few days later, I decided I couldn’t let such an opportunity slip through my fingers simply because I felt insecure. I applied and was accepted into the program with a full scholarship. After earning this scholarship and excelling in the program, my effort made me realize that there are no boundaries to my potential.

Puzzles are about trying to make sense of the pieces. Similarly, life is a constant effort to find the experiences that fill our existence. Capão placed a set number of pieces in front of me with which I was not satisfied, so I decided to look for more in other places. Studying, discovering new worlds, and achieving what seemed to be improbable were some experiences that broadened my horizons. However, I want to do more than just build my own story; I also want to enable others to do the same. As I continue gathering pieces, I want to share everything I learn and accomplish along the way in order to empower my peers and my community to overcome challenges, expand their borders and thus produce a dazzling picture for society’s puzzle.”



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