Years ago I remember seeing an old Army recruiting commercial that asked the question, “If someone wrote a story about your life, would anyone want to read it?” The question wasn’t profound because it made me want to join the military; rather, it made me question the life I was then living. I was at a crossroads, wondering what happened to my dreams.
I grew up in Elizabeth—the fourth-largest city in New Jersey— raised by two amazing, hardworking immigrant parents. I was one of five children, the second youngest and the middle boy. I had lived in seven different houses by the time I entered high school. My parents stretched their dollars to provide for a family of seven. My parents didn’t talk about money, but I also never worried about shelter, food, or my health. They made sure those needs were met. I didn’t grow up with brand-name labels, and our idea of fine dining was eating at buffet restaurants. We walked around the mall to stretch our legs, but most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my older brother.
I was the dreamer and the overachiever who got good grades and followed the rules. As a teenager I made money by delivering pizza, mowing lawns, raking leaves, and shoveling snow. I competed in forensics, played sports, and acted in school plays. I was class president and a member of the honor society. I also graduated at the top of my class.
I had a dream for my life and I was eager to start college.
During my senior year of high school, my mother told me that ...