The Journey That Changed My Life: Felix's Story

Better Make Room is a public awareness campaign by First Lady Michelle Obama to target Generation Z (young people ages 14-19) to celebrate education, change the national conversation, and reach students directly where they are by giving them a space to create content while also navigating the college-going process. Better Make Room, is part of Civic Nation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, leverages traditional and new media platforms to celebrate student stories in the same way that we often celebrate celebrities and athletes. With partners in the business, philanthropic, media, and education realm, this campaign stretches across the country to inspire students and give them the tools they need to reach higher for college. 

Felix (far right) pictured with his friend Camden and
Mr. Mangelsdorf. 

The following Better Make Room student takeover story features a West Ottawa High School graduate, Felix Payan. His story has been re-published with permission, and was originally featured here

"I grew up in a single parent household. This may seem like a common occurrence in today’s world, but it was very difficult for me to grow up without having a positive male role model present in my life. For the past eighteen years, all I ever wanted was for someone to treat me like a son. I grew up in Holland, Michigan and I was not as good at speaking English compared to my peers. There was a language barrier between me and all my classmates for most of elementary school, but despite the challenges, I seemed to always overcome them no matter how many times I doubted myself.

When I began middle school my intentions changed from wanting an education to wanting to fit in with everyone else. I wanted to impress my classmates, so I began talking back to teachers, making fun of others, and making fun of myself. The idea of an education was blurred by wanting to be popular and cool around my friends. It was in middle school when I received my first glimpse at the racial burden that I carried as a Mexican-American. One day, on my way home from the boxing gym, a man stopped me and started questioning me. He said things like, “What’s in the backpack?” “Don’t think I don’t know about your kind and the gangs around here.” He proceeded to talk and the last thing he said was branded into my head: “Don’t think it will make a difference whether I kill you or not, either way you’ll just end up another dead Mexican.” For the longest time I believed that was what I was; just another Mexican destined to become a criminal. I began craving trouble and anything that came with it.

At first, I started to believe all of those things that this man said to me. Then one day I crossed paths with an old friend named Camden Mangelsdorf. Camden became a brother to me. His father and mother brought me into their home and treated me as if I were their own son. Still to this day the Mangelsdorf family provides me with an incredible support system, and Camden remains my friend, and I can confide in him with anything that is on my mind.

While I was in high school, I didn’t have much motivation to graduate. Since my two older brothers were high school dropouts — I figured that I was destined for the same future. Luckily, I passed my freshman year. I remember at the end of that year, my english teacher Mrs.Wilson came and found me in class, and brought me instructions and the summer work that I needed for her Honors English course. I did not complete it, because I figured I would not be able to handle an Honors English course. On the first day of sophomore year, Mrs.Wilson hunted me down and said that she wanted me to take that honors English course and that she would help me finish up the summer work that I had previously decided not to do. After making it through Honors English that year, she convinced me to take AP English during my junior year. I decided to keep pushing myself and took on more Honors and AP courses.

As a kid I desperately wanted a role model, and as I got older the idea of changing the world and being that positive role model for other kids kept me going. Mentors and teachers have become those role models for me and have kept me out of trouble and on the right track. The Mangelsdorf family and my teachers from West Ottawa High School became my support system that made me want to continue my education. To this day they still check up on me whether I’m right down the street or all the way across the world.

While I may be improving my life, there are still some things that are very hard. My older brother is still going in and out of jail, and consequently, I felt very alone in high school. Despite all of the obstacles, I was able to overcome all the odds and graduate high school and pursue a four year degree. I am now attending Ferris State University where I am putting my destiny into my own hands and I plan on receiving my degree regardless of obstacles that get in my way. My goal is to receive my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Marketing and Social Work. My experiences are what give me the motivation to change the world. I plan on working for a non-profit organization, so that I can hopefully help out anyone who is going through difficult obstacles in their life like I did."


Posted: November 16, 2016

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