Growing up in the North End of Hartford, MxCC graduate Geoffrey Canales didn’t know anyone who thought about college, never mind actually attended college. And the idea of going to an Ivy League university was as foreign to everyone in Geoffrey’s life as space travel. Both were equally unattainable and hardly worth dreaming about.
But then Geoffrey’s mother decided to move to Meriden in the hopes of giving her children a better education. In his sophomore year of high school, Geoffrey had the chance to visit an Ivy League school – Columbia University in New York. He was completely awestruck by simply walking through the campus, and he knew he wanted to be part of it. This became his dream – to not only be the first in his family to attend and graduate from college, but to also be the first to attend an Ivy League school. And that school would be Columbia University.
He went to see his high school guidance counselor who said his grades were far too low to be accepted into the prestigious Ivy League and that he was not the type of student they looked for. With this reality check, Geoffrey realized he had to do a lot of work to make his dreams a reality – and he had to make education his singular focus.
Living in Meriden meant Geoffrey was familiar with MxCC’s Meriden Center campus. He began taking classes and fell in love with everything the College had to offer. For the first time in his life, he felt a connection to his teachers – and really believed they cared about him as a person.
“The professors pushed me to grow beyond anything I had imagined before,” Geoffrey said. “They helped me believe in myself, build great study habits, and work harder than ever. At the same time, they helped me keep perspective if I didn’t do well on a test or an assignment they taught me that there is growth in failure or disappointment. They helped me learn how to stay motivated and build up my grades.”
Geoffrey realized many of his classmates shared his same background. They each knew friends and family who were in gangs, had to work many hours to pay for college and help support their families, and had many real-life stresses that could be a distraction to education. So when one human services professor, Ed Bonilla, told his class that despite whatever happened before coming to MxCC, every single student was privileged to be at the College at that moment – Geoffrey looked at his situation differently.
“Professor Bonilla taught us that status, class, and money no longer mattered because we were now presented with this opportunity to change our lives through education,” Geoffrey said. “That meant a lot and resonated with me even to this day.”
In addition to having a full class schedule that included demanding study time, Geoffrey worked 40 hours each week at two different jobs. This forced him to be disciplined and structured – and really challenged his perseverance level. He often turned to MxCC’s services for support. He used many tutors who helped him build math skills and grow as a writer, and he turned to Emily Canto, the most influential person in his journey at MxCC, and the Career Development office to set his sights on transferring to a four-year college. He also appreciated professors who followed up and took the extra step to help him keep on track.
“There were many times when I felt frustrated and overwhelmed, and then I would have a conversation with a professor, or get an email from an advisor, and that would remind me that I am supposed to be here,” Geoffrey said. “I wanted to do well for myself, but I also wanted to show everyone at MxCC that their dedication mattered and that their dreams were attainable from this small school that is special.”
In the end, Geoffrey was able to graduate from MxCC with an Associates Degree in Human Services in just two years. He then transferred to Central Connecticut State University to earn his Bachelors of Arts degree in Social Work (which he will complete this spring).
But the biggest accomplishment for Geoffrey was the one he dreamed of as a young teenager: he was accepted into Columbia University’s social work program (one of only 2,000 accepted from 32,000 applicants). He is now officially on his way to earning his master’s degree from an Ivy League school.
Geoffrey does not plan to stop there, however. After he graduates from Columbia, he will return to Connecticut to earn a law degree and will begin a career working for the state of Connecticut. His ultimate goal: to become the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families for the state of Connecticut.
“I know I have ambitious goals,” Geoffrey said with a smile. “I entirely credit that to MxCC for helping me believe in myself and my future. And for teaching me that despite one’s circumstances, it is possible to achieve anything. None of this would be possible without taking that first step at The Meriden Center and allowing MxCC into my life. For that, I am forever grateful.”