Sweat Equity, Delayed Gratification, and One Senior’s Story of a Big Payoff

Meet Evan Cabrera, a member of the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children program and recent graduate of Lake Worth High School. Cabrera will be heading to Florida Atlantic University in the fall on a full ride scholarship as a participant in the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program. He is one of four students in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children program to receive the honor for academically talented, first-generation students. They are among 15 high school seniors in Florida to receive the scholarships.

In a recent conversation with us, Cabrera shared his thoughts about his success, some private struggles, and his advice for other students.

JSF: Evan, tell us a little about what it took to receive not one but two full scholarships.

EC: In my junior year I was asked to apply for the Leaders for Life scholarship. (The Leaders for Life full scholarship is awarded to six Take Stock in Children scholars from across the state.) At that point, that was the first scholarship I was applying for. It was a pretty big packet. (Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County Executive Director ) Nancy Stellway really helped me a lot. I turned out to be a semi-finalist. It put me down a little bit. But she said my application was really good, and told me I could apply for this other scholarship. I thought of it as a little failure that I had. But I realized a lot of people who might have edged me out didn’t even apply. And I realized it’s just some more minutes to put into it.

I remember hearing the term “sweat equity.” I thought about that a lot. I have to put in the work now. I applied for the Kelly/Strul and another from the Scholastic Achievement Foundation. I remember thinking ‘I’m applying for two separate four-year scholarships to the same school. How crazy if I got them both.’ And I did! I know I’m really grateful just being in this position.

JSF: In your essays, you talk about some difficulties in your family during high school. How did that affect you?

EC: In my sophomore year, my brother was arrested at our house. When the police came to our house, I was the first one handcuffed, interrogated. It was traumatic. It’s still traumatic to think about sometimes, even though I know the police are not going after me. I didn’t share it with many people. It gave me insight into what I was doing in my life. (At Johnson Scholars-Take Stock,) only a few people knew. My mentor knew. Anytime I was in that environment it was always happiness. I liked the meetings we had. It helped me a lot without them really knowing.

I never questioned if my school or other potential outlets were worthwhile. I cannot set my expectations too high. My goal was not to get straight A’s. I just thought, ‘let me do good and care,’ and I got straight A’s. I started my own club outside of school. That’s where I devoted a lot of, let’s say, my bottled emotions. It’s called PB4Planet. I found out there was a climate strike in West Palm Beach. I contacted the organizer and said I wanted to be involved. I’ve always been interested in renewable resources and renewable energy. I was always into science. I wanted to make some difference. I knew political change is very difficult. I started that club with high school kids to make inspirational change. We’ve done beach cleanups, we did a mangrove cleanup in Boynton Beach. It’s something I’m going to continue while in university. Since I’ve always been interested in renewable energy, I hope to become a civil engineer and focus on building homes to a more eco-friendly standard.

JSF: What advice do you have for other young people contemplating their future?

EC: It’s extremely hard for someone, especially in my generation, to see the long-term goal. So it’s hard to put in the effort initially. I think that’s the perspective of why so many people are complaining about us. For me, just putting in that sweat equity without even knowing what that end goal would be, it fulfilled me. When I started doing well in school, I had some guys say, ‘oh, he’s probably a nerd.’ If you know you have potential within yourself, don’t go for the mainstream mentality of immediate rewards. Too many guys think, ‘I have to do certain things to fit in.’ Well, sometimes you don’t need to fit in. After I started getting all this positive attention for the things I was doing everybody just started respecting me. It’s all worth it. I only realize these things because I’ve had an open mind to learn from mistakes.

Evan Cabrera is a recent Lake Worth High School graduate and recipient of a full-ride scholarship to Florida Atlantic University through the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program.

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