Saul: Expanding his horizons

He treasured knowledge, but knew he had to — against his own wishes — adopt an outwardly “hard” façade to survive his peers’ bullying.

Years ago, as a freshman, he tentatively navigated the halls of his Newark public high school. He was unusually tall and lanky. Inwardly, he treasured knowledge, but knew he had to — against his own wishes — adopt an outwardly “hard” façade to survive his peers’ bullying. But young Saul also was ambitious and audacious.

After an honors math teacher told Saul in front of the entire class he’d never get into his dream school, Princeton University, because his own daughter — who then attended a higher-achieving school — didn’t stand a chance, Saul’s response was quick: “I’m not your daughter.”

His chutzpah earned him a trip to the principal’s office. A few days later, another, encouraging teacher gave Saul what turned out to be life-changing advice: if you’re serious about Princeton, stay after school. Check out an outside program called Pathways to College.

Months later, Saul was at Princeton. He earned admission to its prestigious summer program, the W.E.B. DuBois Scholars Institute.

“In Pathways I learned if I wanted to go to Princeton, I had to stand out and get involved in summer programs,” says Saul, now 30. “My Pathways teacher even drove me from Newark to Princeton for my interview. When I was there, I felt like I was in a royal setting. Being myself is being in love with learning. I felt freedom in Pathways that I didn’t find at home or at school. Pathways was my escape outlet.”

Saul’s parents wanted him to drop out of high school when he became old enough to work, to help support their household. His mother grew up on a farm in the Dominican Republic and had the equivalent of a first-grade education. His father chose a military career over advanced formal education. Saul had different ideas, though. Pathways to College helped nurture them.

“Pathways taught me to pursue opportunities, strive for what I want and be a consumer of wisdom,” Saul says. “In one of our sessions, we went to Colgate-Palmolive corporate headquarters and I met the CEO. Before that, I didn’t even know what a CEO was. We went on college tours out of state. I thought the only colleges that existed were those in Newark that my school told us about. Pathways taught me to expand my horizons.”

The unapologetically audacious kid now is a towering, 6-foot-6, intellectual giant. Saul graduated with honors from Amherst College. He returned to Princeton — as a biochemistry teaching assistant. He then returned to his alma mater, the place he describes as “an underdog school,” to teach Spanish, coach the nationally competitive speech and debate team and transform the school’s culture, advising its LGBTQ Alliance club.

“I never thought that a person of my experience would ever be in a position to mentor kids,” Saul says. “But Pathways helped me get to the leadership positions I’m in today. By being a leader, you can create villages of learning. Then you can help the villagers to become other leaders.”