Profile of a first-generation college-bound student: Stone MurphyMore Info
Stone Murphy is a senior at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where his advanced drama class just wrapped its full-house show “A Comedy About a Bank Robbery,” and he and many of his classmates are eagerly waiting to hear back from colleges. He’s also a server at the Red Lion Inn, working about 12 hours per week when school’s in session, and more than 30 when school is out. Stone lives with his maternal grandparents in Lee.
As a high-achieving, first-generation college-bound student, he is one of two recipients of last year’s inaugural Chang-Chavkin Scholars Program, profiled in The Edge last summer. This scholarship, supported by Laura Chang and Arnie Chavkin of New Marlborough and directed by Nancy Roseman, provides a $60,000 scholarship package for four years of college, plus extensive one-to-one guidance and mentoring on the college application and matriculation process. This year’s other senior Chang-Chavkin Scholar from Monument is Jenna Salvatore. I spoke to Stone about the scholarship, his family and future plans.
Stone: When I was going through the process of looking into college, I didn’t have resources. No one in my family had background information on what I was about to go through. I am a first-generation college student. When I started seriously thinking about it was a year ago, going into second semester of junior year. It started off with my grandmother. I was looking at a situation where I didn’t have a clear goal or objective.
In most circumstances a private institution has more money available to give you. I was really interested in applying to private schools for that reason. I applied to Williams, Skidmore, Bates, Bowdoin and Western New England College.
I’ve heard back from Western New England. They were my safety school but I really like their campus and its close by. I think I might end up going there because they offered me a very generous financial aid package. When and if the other schools say yes, and looking at those packages, there’s gonna be finding a balance between quality of education, location, how happy I’ll be and price.
The only thing it [Western New England] doesn’t have compared with the other schools is the academic notoriety. But I can’t take any more out of textbook studying at that school than I can at Williams. It’s just a question of the professors and the people that I’m with. Some people would say I’d have a better overall experience being in the community of a more competitive school, but I think I’ll be able to find kids there who have similar interests to me.
There isn’t a big savings account prepared for me to go to school, so whatever money I did need to pay would have to be done through loans and financial aid and scholarships. I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a decent amount of scholarship money where it is OK, but there wasn’t a lot of money after I bought my car to start putting toward college.
She [my grandmother] is my hero. At this stage in our relationship, when I’m 17 going on 18, it almost feels like I’m taking care of her a lot—needing to help explain technology to her, set up the cable box, fix the wifi. It almost seems like she’s not as all-knowing as she once was. But she’s incredibly wise. It’s not so much about how much you know how to do, but she has this factor of being able to stay calm and give wise advice. She can listen and provide thoughtful insight on things other people are going through.
A great example is when I was a little kid and my dad or mom would make a mistake, my grandma would try to explain it to me as if I were an adult just using the vocabulary of a child: “The reason your dad is in jail is because he did something wrong, and when you do something wrong, you have to own up to the consequences and be an adult.”
She has believed in me from the start. Ever since I was little kid, I’ve been thinking about and been ambitious about. She really kicked me into gear with looking into college because it’s easy to get sidetracked with high school life and working.
[For the Chang-Chavkin Scholars application] There were three essays, with unique prompts. The first was about what the scholarship would mean to us and how we would utilize it in our college experience. But the second and third were more personal. They wanted us to write about something that fascinated us, like something abstract, art, or a period of history, anything. I wrote about ancient Egypt, how, since I was a kid, I loved the pyramids and King Tut, all that.
When I was applying, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. But I did have a feeling that if they could enjoy my essays enough to invite me to come speak to them at Town Hall, I thought I had a pretty OK chance.
One Saturday there were a bunch of 30-minute blocks scheduled for us and each person went one at a time at the Stockbridge Town Hall, and there was a panel of people from college admissions offices and Laura Chang and Mr. Chavkin and Nancy Roseman, and they all sat at a table.
When it got to Ms. Roseman, she asked, “Why do you want to go to college?” That caught me off guard, and I thought about it. That was what they were looking for, was someone who would say, “I want to be the first person in my family to go and make a difference.”
People knew going into it that there was a lot of potential money at stake, and the kids who were contending for the scholarship, that money meant a lot to them, because they didn’t have a trust fund or something. So it was a little bit nerve-wracking.
The next time I met with all the people who’d been selected and the people from the program, it was a totally different atmosphere because it wasn’t so much applying for a job, it was like being an integral part of a company and making decisions. It went from being some kid who needed help to an adult figure with more mature discussions, and you feel more listened to. That was a nice transition, going from applying to working with the people in that program.
[If there were no Chang-Chavkin Scholars program] I would have had to work a lot harder on writing the little essays that try to grab the $250 from this organization, the $100 from this, the $500 from this. I guess, right now, I would be looking at pulling out a lot of student loans. If you don’t have the money to pay for college, more often than not, it’s more appealing to take the loans, kick the can down the road, get the education so you can start a career, even if you’re in debt, than not have any qualifications to work and take a job that is more service-based.
I still would have applied to Williams, and still would have gotten rejected. The schools in Maine and Skidmore, those were introduced to me by Ms. Roseman. That’s the other part of the Chang-Chavkin program—it’s a lot more than the money they’re offering. It’s the guidance and advice. No matter how silly your questions are, they know that, at one point, they were just as oblivious, and everyone has to start somewhere. It’s helpful for me, who doesn’t have a family member you can ask “what is this part of my college experience going to be like,” or “how do I fill this out,” or “what am I looking at with the FAFSA,” “what does it mean to major in this”… a lot of people have a mom or dad, aunt or uncle they can go to for that.
I think this program is giving me an opportunity to expand my horizons and look into schools that have programs that will permit me to travel abroad, explore opportunities that will be beneficial for me over the next four years.
Nancy Roseman is the executive director of the Chang-Chavkin Scholars Program. She’s expanded its reach from three participating Berkshire County high schools in the 2017–18 school year to six this year: Drury, Mount Greylock, Wahconah, Lee, Monument Mountain and Mount Everett. She works closely with guidance counselors in each of those schools to select eligible applicants.
There is no set cap on the number of scholars who will be accepted each year; it all depends on the pool of applicants and how well they fit the program criteria. Said Roseman: “We’ll get our initial pool, and I look at that in terms of academic quality, financial need, grit, ambition. Going to college and graduating is a journey and I’m looking for students who are hungry for that. At the end of the day, success is graduating. We don’t care about the Ivy League; we care about completion. [The four-year graduation rate at private and public colleges and universities is 36 percent.] What’s most important to the donors is that they really make an impact.”
She says of Stone: “He was the first student we interviewed last year. After he left the room, one of the admissions officers said to me, ‘Can I take him home?’ From the minute I met him, I knew this was the kind of kid we want. He can shine, and benefit, and go to a school he could never imagine for himself.”
Juniors at Monument, Mount Everett and Lee high schools can apply, before the Friday, Feb. 1, directly to the program from its new website portal.