So, we’re enjoying a meal at the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick with Juan Magalhaes, a Bowdoin junior who hails from Brazil by way of the Cate School in California, when I got a text.  Rudely, but fortuitously as it happened, I checked the text. It was from Rai Miller, our former host student who came to Bowdoin from Alabama and graduated in 2013.  

I say “fortuitously” because these two extraordinary young people share much in common. Both are first-generation college students; both were raised in single-parent homes by devoted mothers; both have a younger brother; and both came to Bowdoin fully funded by a prestigious QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship.  

QuestBridge Scholarships are awarded to outstanding students of limited financial means from around the country. Each year, only about 5of the 16,000-plus applicants to QuestBridge get funded to attend one of the nation’s elite colleges and universities.  

After dinner, we went to Gelato Fiasco where I had a picture taken of Juan, Tina and me. I sent it on to Rai, noting that Juan was only our second Quest Bridge student. She immediately replied, “Hi, Juan! Welcome to the family!” 

“Family” is a nice kind word, but the success stories of Rai and Juan revolve, in truth, around the steadfast support of their extraordinary mothers: Katherine (for Rai) and Joseli (for Juan). 

At the end of her fine four years at Bowdoin, Rai was one of two students selected to give a speech at Commencement in May, 2008. She began her speech (“Rising from Fear: the Unyielding Power of Self-Belief”) with the following: “When I was a little girl, my mother would always tell my younger brother and me that some day we were both going to be somebody.” 

Rai’s mother nailed it.  After an outstanding career at Bowdoin, Rai received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in Indonesia. She later went on to pursue a PhD in Counseling Psychology at Oklahoma State University. Katherine surprised Rai this past spring by being outside the room where Rai had just made her dissertation defense. The video Rai sent to me of seeing her mother and hugging her with joy brought tears to my eyes.  

Juan’s story is equally inspirational. He grew up in a slum in Brazil and, after attending an American school there for a year, drew the attention of the Cate School in California. He entered Cate as a junior at age 18. His history of overcoming financial adversity to excel in the classroom while launching creative community service projects led to his receiving a QuestBridge Scholarship. 

At Bowdoin, Juan has made his mark in the classroom, on the soccer field and as an indefatigable employee of the Bowdoin Dining Service. Focused on becoming a global business leader, Juan has prepared the way by completing valuable internships at Grupo JPalucelli in Brazil, after his first year at Bowdoin, and at Ebay in California, after his second year. He will spend this coming academic year at the London School of Economics. 

Juan credits his mother Joseli for being always there, always supportive. “I hadn’t even told her I was applying to Cate. She knew I was looking into schools in the U.S., but only after I received the letter of acceptance did she understand that I was serious about it. She was proud and knew it would be a good opportunity for me, so she gave me her blessings, and here we are today.” 

Juan has worked hard enough and saved enough so that he was able to fund a recent two-week trip to Europe for his mother and brother. We had the joy of seeing him talk to his mother on Skype while she was in Europe. Although we couldn’t understand a word they were saying in Portuguese, we could feel the loving joy brought about by this momentous trip. He hopes to have earned enough at Bowdoin and during the summers to buy his mother a house back in Brazil. That’s not out of the question, as one can purchase a decent house for around $60,000 in Brazil. 

Here’s a shout-out to Katherine and Joseli. Thanks for bringing these two extraordinary young people into the world. Thanks for giving them roots and wings. Thanks for knowing when to hold them and when to let them go. And thanks for letting us play a  very small role in their very big success stories. We bask, with you, in our “family” pride. 

 David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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