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Those who meet Zachary Wright might never guess that his life was once very different than it is today.
Currently, the quiet and confident young man is a junior physics major at Bridgewater State University, who has spent time in South Korea and dreams of one day returning to teach there.
However, there was a time when such things seemed well beyond his imagination, never mind his reach. Zachary was once homeless. That said, anyone who knows him realizes that it would take more than this to keep him down.
“Many would not imagine a child when hearing the phrase ‘homeless person.’ However, the situations surrounding this are all too real and serious,” Zachary recently told the audience at the Open Door Gala, a fundraiser for School on Wheels Massachusetts, an organization that seeks to educate children impacted by homelessness by providing academic support and one-on-one mentoring. School on Wheels has played a big part in Zachary’s success.
Of “serious situations,” Zachary knows of what he speaks. He never knew his father, and severe poverty complicated things for the Brockton native. Eventually his family moved to Arizona where for a short time things were looking up.
That changed soon enough. Out west, his stepfather became abusive to his mother, and after a few years Zachary, his mother and brother moved back to Massachusetts, where they had no money and were forced to stay with friends.
The next stop was a women’s shelter on Cape Cod. When his grandfather died, further putting the family in extremis, Zachary began to ponder his situation.
“When you’re that poor, eventually you get to the point of saying, ‘Can I imagine a life that’s like this for the rest of my life?’ You realize that things have to change, and that person has to be me to make those changes.”
Eventually, the family found housing in Brockton, where Zachary had to walk two miles each day to and from school. It seemed as if things were looking up.
However, during his junior year in high school, Zachary’s mother got sick and died. He was 16. He grieved, of course, but knew that feeling sad wasn’t going to change anything. He mapped out a definitive course for his life.
“ I realized the importance of education and how it can lift people out of poverty,” he said. “It’s a foundational way to end poverty.”
And so Zachary dedicated himself to his studies with even more fervor. His older sister moved her family from Kansas to Brockton to help raise Zachary and his brother. His studying paid off: a month after losing his mother, Zachary passed the test to become a certified entry level Information Technology technician. Next came another accomplishment: securing an internship with the Brockton Public Schools IT Department.
Around this time, Zachary had become involved with School on Wheels. With the organization’s help he came to the attention of BSU, where he earned a full scholarship (with School on Wheels picking up some of his additional expenses). The university’s Bridgewater Scholars Program pays for his tuition, room and board.
The program is part of BSU’s Task Force to End Homelessness. It offers financial support to students who have experienced homelessness and who have demonstrated educational success. Dr. Michele Wakin, chair of the task force, often sings the program’s praises. “It is one of the most gratifying things I've done in my career at BSU,” she said.
At Bridgewater, Zach began as a computer science major with a 4.0 GPA. It soon became clear that he loved the idea of self improvement. He endeavored to learn a new language, and chose Korean, thanks to having many friends who hail from that country. During his time at BSU, he applied for and earned a scholarship from the Korean government to spend a year there. Before heading overseas, Zachary learned how to speak the language. He plans to return as a professor one day.
Zachary agrees that college and its many benefits, such as engaging with a diverse group of friends and even studying abroad, has changed him for the better. Quiet though he may be, he is confident and ready to take on any further challenges that life sends his way.
Zachary is changing his major again, as if physics wasn’t hard enough. His goal is to be a well-rounded graduate, knowing that will make him a better educator. But as he’s proved time and again, he never turns away from a challenge.
“I like having challenges, and I like overcoming challenges,” he said. “For me, I want something to work on throughout my life. I don’t want to see it as a job; I want to see it as a passion. I want something I can contribute to, even if it’s hard. That’s something I want to take on.”
Anyone who knows Zach, knows the smart money’s riding on him. (John Winters, G’11, University News & Media; interview and photo by Charlie Peters)