Sheldon is a Breakthrough senior currently attending St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. He was recently named a National Achievement Program honoree, representing the top 3 percent of African-American students in America, and was nominated as a Questbridge finalist-Breakthrough’s first! He was one of three Breakthrough students who attended the summit and we sat down with him to learn more about his experience.
BT: How did you learn about the program and apply?
Sheldon: I went to an information session at the Breakthrough office and learned more about the program and applying.
BT: What intrigued you about the program?
Sheldon: The fact that they had so many people from so many different counties. I had never been around people from so many backgrounds before, so that was really interesting.
BT: What was the first day like?
Sheldon: For me it was a little odd because everyone seemed like they already knew each other, it seemed like one big family reunion that I wasn’t in on yet. We met the first morning at Amala’s office and took a bus to Wimberley and I was able to meet some people on the bus. They immediately included me in their circles, which was very welcoming. Once we got to the camp, they pointed me to my counselors and we started talking with the guys in my cabin and we immediately had a group.
BT: What is one thing that surprised you?
Sheldon: How honest people were with each other, from the beginning, people didn’t hide anything about themselves, how they felt, what they were stressed about, etc. and this led to people being able to express themselves when they were genuinely happy and excited.
It took me a few days to warm up to the idea of sharing in such a way, it was all day everyday, people were not worried about being judged or what other people thought. After a while, I finally had the courage to let it all out and it felt good – everyone was welcoming and accepting.
BT: What is something you thought was interesting?
Sheldon: Everything, every activity, is done in circles. Talking, eating, you name it.
BT: What kind of food did you eat?
Sheldon: The food was healthy and had vegetarian options- more vegetables than I’ve ever seen at a meal before.
BT: How many people did you speak with and meet?
Sheldon: Everyone. There were, I think, 100 people there and by the end of the week I had interacted with almost everyone. Playing basketball or just talking or playing music. I was exposed to some new music; they did a lot of acoustic music, really making their own music.
BT: Have you kept in contact since?
Sheldon: Yes, I am staying in touch with two of my counselors and some people who live in town- we’ve met up at Barton Springs Pool which is pretty cool.
BT: What were your takeaways?
Sheldon: I learned to be honest with myself about things. Talking with other people about their problems helped me to better understand and identify how I feel about things in my life. It was a humbling experience- I was in awe that people who were so different could get along like they were family. For instance I met two sisters from Israel and they seemed like just regular people on the street, even though they were from the other side of the world.