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Affording Opportunity: A story of survival and the power of scholarships

February 12, 2018
By Claire De Lisle

When violence spilled into their hometown in Chihuahua, Mexico, Evan King ’17 and his mom knew they had to leave. All along the Texas-Mexico border, gang and drug-related violence had steadily increased since 2006. King's mother worked three jobs to pay her children's school fees and to keep food on the table, and a brief move to another town provided neither safety nor better work.

So, in the summer of 2010, King and his mother set out for the United States.

King wasn't sure where he would end up. His mother is Mexican but he and his siblings are American citizens, having been born in the United States to an American father. His siblings moved to the U.S. long before King left Mexico. He and his mom lived out of their car as they drove throughout the country, looking for work and a place to settle.

Then, through Facebook, King found his father and siblings in Winchester, Va., and that's where he decided to move, with his one small suitcase — starting a new life.

Through all this upheaval, Evan King ’17 couldn't have imagined he would now be a proud graduate of William & Mary with a degree in international relations and a minor in Latin American studies.

Money was tight and adjusting to a new place was difficult, but King knew he wanted to take advantage of the safety he felt and the opportunities he was afforded to pursue an education.

"I am a low-income student from a large family, without much to go around. Neither of my parents had much experience with college," he said. "It was a rollercoaster ride trying to figure it out. I am deeply thankful for the people who helped me find the way to get what I needed."

In 2013, King enrolled in Lord Fairfax Community College. Through the Virginia Community Colleges Guaranteed Admission Agreement and the generous support of scholarship donors, he transferred to William & Mary after two years.

"I chose William & Mary for a number of reasons: the student to faculty ratio, the record participation rates in study abroad programs, the great research opportunities for undergraduate students, the incredibly supportive faculty and staff, and perhaps most importantly, the generous grants and scholarships package that enabled my family and me to manage the costs of higher education," King said.

The transition to William & Mary was challenging but one of the best decisions he has ever made, he said. He was struck by the caring environment and level of support he received from his professors.

"The faculty took the time outside of class to make sure I was OK, they helped me meet my personal and professional goals and kept me on track," he said. "They were so impressive and knowledgeable and they took time out of their day to help undergraduates succeed. My friends in other schools don't have relationships like that with their professors," King said.

The Gregory Tepper Scholarship, Trice Fellowship and Pulley Endowment enabled him to study abroad in Bosnia and Liberia, working at the Monrovia Football Academy, Inc. run by Will Smith ’14 and getting hands-on experience and conducting on-the-ground research for his international relations degree.

"William & Mary believed in me, not just as a student, but as an individual capable of achieving positive change in the world around me," King said. "I never thought as an undergraduate I could do these things. I was hoping that I could just stay in school. My first semester I took out an emergency loan just to survive. But scholarships opened doors for me in all kinds of ways."   

King hopes to join a childhood policy research nonprofit in Washington, D.C., so that he can help children in the Hispanic community, using the opportunities he's been given to increase opportunities for others like him. His goal is to help ensure that children today and tomorrow do not have to face the same violence he endured while living in Mexico. 

"I'm also looking at working abroad in Latin America, where my heart is," he said.

He has a strong message for anyone considering giving to scholarships: "Do it! And thank you," he said. "It's important to have more low-income students here. We talk about diversity and how essential it is for William & Mary to flourish, and that should include socioeconomic diversity. We are a tight-knit community made stronger by people from different backgrounds."