Quentin Neroes is going to Harvard next fall. It’s big news at Conrad High School in Dallas: He is the first student in the school’s history to head to Cambridge Massachusetts for college.
Conrad is in the heart of Vickery Meadow. It’s the immigrant neighborhood that has been featured in the KERA American Graduate series Generation One, and also where Thomas Eric Duncan was staying when he was diagnosed with Ebola.
"Trying to get to college has always been a major goal for me," Quentin said. "I always wanted to do something better with my life than what I’ve been growing up around.”
A whopping 86 percent of the students at Conrad are considered poor, and half have limited English proficiency. Unlike many of his classmates, Quentin was born in the United States.
He is on track to be school valedictorian and a first-generation college student. As part of our Yearbook Project, he reads from his one of his application essays about meeting a childhood hero, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Here is the full essay:
There I was, standing in his office, with no more than three feet and the coffee table separating us. Seeing him come down the hallway was like being in a movie, only this was real life. I was about to meet my role model, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. I knew that this was the opportunity of a lifetime. This short, half-hour meeting, had an impact that gave me the momentum to overcome any obstacle to becoming an astrophysicist. While I found the direction as to what I wanted to be, I also saw who I wanted to be.
I was first exposed to Dr. Tyson in a television show called NOVA scienceNOW. I researched who this astrophysicist was, and found that he was the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Meeting him was the best experience I have ever known. The fact that this intellectual giant actually responded to an email from a little kid over 1,000 miles away gave me a superb feeling. I got to interview him, and after that we had a short discussion. I asked him every question I had on my mind, with my mother nearby, smiling with pride.
After this discussion, he proceeded to give me books, mostly written by himself, and put them in a cotton bag of his own. Included in this bag was his memoir, entitled The Sky Is Not The Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist. I soon set to reading it, and learned about this man who seemed much more than that.
I still remember seeing him sign that book, writing a short yet meaningful note to me. We then took a picture and I got to visit the planetarium.
Later on, I got to know more about his background, and thought, if he could achieve so much being an African-American male, and coming from a poor neighborhood like the Bronx, then so could I. Seeing how far he came relative to where he started inspired me to overcome as he did.
Living in these conditions as I do brings its own difficulties. The Council of the Great City Schools published in the year 2010 that only 5% of college students are African-American males. The idea that, despite this staggering number, my role model could move on to become such a prestigious figure in the scientific community brings me hope.
In watching Cosmos, I learned more about this man. I learned that he had a similar experience when he met Carl Sagan, a prominent astronomer during his time. He describes the result of the meeting thus: “I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become. He reached out to me and countless others, inspiring so many of us to study, teach, and do science.” This is exactly what happened for me. Dr. Tyson, in meeting me and in hosting television shows, showed me how to approach a person and educate them when they do not know something. I have followed suit by volunteering at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, teaching children and adults alike in the Expanding Universe Hall. I love lighting the fire of education within the hearts of everyone that I meet.
In all its parts, that meeting was not simply a great experience. It was, as Dr. Tyson mentions in Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the passing of the torch. In passing that torch on to me, he astounded me with all his brilliance and inspired a love of helping people learn. By meeting with me, he inspired me, just as Carl Sagan did with him, and this experience became a central part of who I am today and the great science communicator I hope to be in the future to come.