College Scholar Christian Navarro Speaks at Muhlenberg College

Christian Navarro, a senior at Muhlenberg College, spoke at the college's 2017 Scholarship Luncheon and gave credit to the Schuler Program for his success.  His speech was recently featured in the MuhlenbergConnect - Student Spotlight and you can read it below.  Christian was a Schuler Scholar at Round Lake Senior High School where he graduated in 2014.  Today Christian is pursuing a double major in accounting and finance.

(Left to Right: Carl Jaffee P '04, Jaffee Family Scholarship Recipient Trott Montina '19, Evan Jaffee '04Jaffee Family Scholarship Recipient Jennifer Herrera '18, Sandy Jaffee P '04, and Jaffee Family Scholarship Recipient Christian Navarro '18)

“Education is the key to everything.” My mother used to say this to me growing up. Now, this is not a major key alert, as DJ Khaled would say, but I have to admit – this powerful message has stuck with me since the first time she said it, and I know it is still pertinent today. Growing up in a semi-strict household, I always did as I was told by my parents. When I was about nine or 10 years old, my mother told both me and my older brother we were going to college no matter what. While my brother moped, I grinned at the notion. 

I remember my fourth grade teacher asking me to write down what I wanted to do when I grew up, so she could hang up the responses for Open House Night. Both my teacher and mother laughed because I had written: “I want to go to college.” So, the future was bright and certainly that was the path. My post high school graduation plans were already intact eight years before the day would come. Now the next big questions were: what was I going to study and where?

Four years later, in eighth grade, those questions began to develop answers. I enrolled in a life skills class . In one of the sessions, I filled out a questionnaire asking me numerous questions about myself. Upon completing the exercise, I was given recommendations as to where my characteristics and abilities best fit in the workforce – the title “accountant” appeared. So, I went home later that day and told my mom that this assignment said I should be an accountant. My mother responded, “Oh, I can see you doing that. Do you know what an accountant is?” “No,” I responded. She proceeded to explain what an accountant does, but I still had no clue what it was. But, I had my career plans set by the age of 14. 

Toward the end of that same year, the opportunity that would eventually assist me in going to college came knocking. The Schuler Scholar Program, which was founded in 2001 and now partners with 12 high schools in the greater Chicagoland area, assists high potential youth gain access to and succeed at the most selective colleges and universities across the nation. I received an invitation to apply for this program and the first step in the process was to write three essays. One of the prompts asked me, “Why do you want to attend a private liberal arts school? What are the benefits?” At reading this prompt, I thought to myself, there are private and public colleges? Who knew? At this stage in my life, I just wanted to play soccer with my friends in my backyard. 

At that point, I referred to the great search engine of Google that mentioned smaller class sizes, access to professors, well-rounded education, etc. After going through the process, I was admitted into the program. After years of working hard, the time finally came to select where I would attend college. The summer prior to my senior year of high school, Schuler brought a number of scholars to Pennsylvania on a 14-hour coach bus ride to visit colleges in the state. Although it was summer break and most students were not on campus, I had truly felt that cliché: “home feeling.” “I can really see myself here,” I told my mother as I sat out there at one of the picnic tables in Parents Plaza after my visit to Muhlenberg. 

When it came to selecting where I would call home for the next four years, there were a number of factors my family and I had to consider. A major factor was the financial aspect. My brother, at the time, was just finishing up his first year at the University of Illinois at Chicago. My parents paid nearly full tuition for him to attend, so we were a bit nervous moving forward with both my brother and I in college at the same time. Every time I am home for breaks, I listen to my mother complain about how much money she is paying for my brother to not do well in his classes. Then, I listen to my brother complain about my mother complaining to him. Now, my brother feels an obligation to work part time on the weekends to at least pay for his apartment downtown, which I know is tiring and not ideal for him.            
Receiving the Jaffee Family Scholarship has given me the opportunity to enjoy my college experience. Rather than worrying about how I am going to pay for school, I can focus on doing well academically and taking advantage of what this institution has to offer. Most importantly, I have become independent as a result of attending this institution. I no longer do things because my parents tell me to, but because I have made the decision for myself to engage in meaningful activities. 

Coming from a low-income area with a poor performing school district, the people who have made my journey possible hold a very special place in my heart. I told the Jaffee family this, but I keep a book with a list of people who have impacted my life in a significant way and you better believe each member of the Jaffee family is in there. If someone is willing to invest their time and resources on me, I can guarantee you I will give nothing less than my “Always Personal Best,” which is the motto for the Schuler Scholar Program. 

Reflecting on my two and half years so far at Muhlenberg, I can honestly say Google did not lie to me about private liberal arts schools back in 2010. I have thrived as a result of the small class sizes and one-on-one interactions with my professors, which have helped me develop personally as well as professionally. I am a double major in accounting and finance aspiring to attain my CPA and work in the public accounting sector. I completed the Start Internship with PricewaterhouseCoopers this past summer in the Chicago office, which is their pipeline for recruiting diverse talent, and I am excited to return this upcoming summer for my client service internship. Although it may seem I was always four years ahead in terms of my plans, had you asked me first semester of college where I would be at this stage in my life – I would have had no clue. I couldn’t even tell you what accounting was.

As I look to the future, I hope to give back to the wonderful Schuler Scholar Program as well as this outstanding institution. I would like to say thank you to the Jaffee family as well as the other donors in this room for investing in educational opportunities for students like myself and who made this experience possible. You have all inspired me to give back once I am in a financially stable position to make this possible for someone like myself in the future. Thank you for your undivided attention, and I hope you all enjoy the luncheon. 

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