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  • Robert Swain

The Power of a 1.8 GPA

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 60 percent of high school students come from a two parent household. But, my high school experience wasn’t typical.

I didn’t grow up in a a stable home, and I city hopped during my high school years. After middle school I moved back to Chicago from Alaska to live with my grandma while my mom entered rehab to get her life back together. I started my freshman year at Percy L. Julian, a high school on the south side of Chicago. For those unfamiliar with Chicago, the south side is very dangerous. Going to school was like going to a prison--we had metal detectors, drug-sniffing dogs, police officers posted up in every corner, and gangs galore. Academics was the last thing on my mind; I was trying to survive!

I was at Percy L. Julian for two years, and then my mom--who was in a much better place--and I moved to Madison, Wisconsin. It was a total culture shock! Even though we moved to one of the poorest neighborhoods in town, it was still leagues nicer than Chicago.

I was bused to a majority white, wealthy school because of a new program the state was experimenting with, sending low-income students to a wealthier school district. The differences between this high school and my high school in Chicago were striking. They had carpet, computers, aides for the teachers, and smaller, more intimate class sizes. Despite the amenities, I struggled a lot. In addition to a faster paced learning environment and general culture shock, I also had to work at Super Saver, the local grocery store, after school every night because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t eat.

It was at this time that my GPA fell from a 3.0 to a 1.8. The teachers labeled me slow and recommended I attend an alternative school. The takeaway was that I was not going to succeed because of my GPA and because I was a poor black male.

However, you see I didn’t allow people to define me! I enlisted in the Army at 18 (after some nudging from mom), I played pro basketball in Germany, I received my MBA in International Business and Management from the university of Wisconsin-Whitewater, I have a successful sales career and I started my own health and wellness business! My greatest accomplish though was marrying my beautiful wife and being blessed with my two boys. Although I didn’t have the regular support of a father in my life it has become one of the most important goals in my life to be a supportive and loving father. I am so committed to fatherhood because I need to be there for my kids and raise them up to be the best version of themselves and contribute positively to society.

During my senior year of high school at the alternative school (that's three high schools if you're keeping track), I had a mindset change, and for the first time in my life I set some goals. 1) graduate from high school, 2) prepare to enter the Army and 3) start envisioning myself being successful by creating a vision board so that every time things got rough, I would look at it and push through. I also contributed a portion of my work shift to having a positive impact in the world.

And here's the irony of this story: That same high school that labeled me as remedial, disruptive, and unlikely to do anything with my life, asked me to come back and speak to the students about being successful! Bottom line: A GPA never determines who will be successful in this game called life!

After several years abroad, serving in the military and playing professional basketball in the European league, Robert Swain returned to the United States and received his MBA. While there have been many accomplishments, one of Rob's greatest highlights has been the opportunities he's had to mentor at risk youth and help revitalize broken communities. Despite a very challenging and unstable upbringing, Rob thrives as a husband, father and entrepreneur. He is passionate about living life to the fullest, and helping others do the same. Rob lives according to a promise he made to himself many years ago: "Never forget where you come from and remain committed to helping guide others through life's challenging situations."


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