That summer I did know, however, that attending Wheaton would not be absent of challenges. I knew that no matter how generous Wheaton’s financial aid was, there would still be a portion left over that would have to be covered by outside sources. I knew I would need to find independent avenues of funding.
While I was working two jobs that summer, my family and I were working on every available option for financing. It was not until a week or so into school that I was able to secure a private loan with the incredibly generous help of oldest sister, Amy. Unfortunately that avenue was not possible for the following year and my first semester of being a sophomore was spent applying for outside grants, scholarships, and loans in order to continue my education at Wheaton. I worked very closely with mentors, friends, faculty, and staff to ensure I would be able to return in the spring. In a testament to the sense of community that exists between Wheaton students and alumni, an alum anonymously came forward and paid my remaining balance owed to the college. It was due to her kindness and generosity that I was able to return the following semester.
The spring of 2013 was my last semester as a member of Wheaton's Class of 2015 but also one of the best and most transformative several months of my life. That semester I had the unique privilege of studying abroad in The Kingdom of Bhutan. At the beginning of my college career, studying abroad was not something I had intended to do, but it’s a decision I will never regret. I could write pages upon pages about the impact Bhutan had on my growth as an individual and the impact this experience had on my life, but that is a topic for another time. I will say that it was in Bhutan that I made the difficult decision-- with the help of some Wheaton mentors and friends-- that, for financial reasons, returning in the fall was not in my best interests.
I spent the next year year taking courses at a local community college, and transferring credits back to Wheaton with the intention of returning as soon as possible. In the beginning of 2014 I pursued my lifelong passion: politics. I remember vividly being the middle schooler who would stay up at night watching The O’Reilly Factor with my dad, and trying to convince my mom to turn the T.V. to the Nightly News during dinner. During study halls I was not the student trying to get around the school’s firewall to adjust my top ten on Myspace; I was reading The Huffington Post and CNN.com. Therefore, it was no surprise to my family and friends when I secured a full time internship working alongside the senior staff at Congressman Mike Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign headquarters in Portland, Maine. Additionally, in 2016 I had the incredible opportunity to accept a full time position at the Maine Democratic Party as the Deputy Finance Director. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside some exceptionally amazing people.
Since leaving Wheaton in 2013 my number one priority had been to get on strong financial footing in order to independently finance the completion of my undergraduate degree. I worked full time, had two and sometimes three jobs on the side, saved, and built my credit up to near perfect levels.
It was during the 2016 campaign season that I decided it was time and I was able to return to Wheaton. That became a reality on January 25, 2017 (pictured above) when I began my final two semesters in Norton, MA. I would start introducing myself as Ben Gagnon, Class of 2018, formerly Class of 2015.
I hit the ground running and jumped right into a 6 course workload. I made the decision--with the help and support of my partner Brandon--to commute to and from Maine once a week and stay in the Norton area 3 nights a week. Although it was tough and I was presented with many challenges, I successfully completed the semester with a 3.3 GPA. I could not have done it without the guidance and support of family, friends, mentors, Professors, and countless Wheaton staff.
This past summer Wheaton presented me with another incredible opportunity. During the Spring Semester, I was awarded a Mars Faculty/Student Research Grant to be a research assistant for one of my professors. Using the stipend I was able to travel to Luxembourg and France in order to assist her in the research of a book she is writing. It was an invaluable experience made possible by the opportunities Wheaton provides.
While in school full time I continue working behind the bar and waiting tables at Buck’s Naked BBQ, processing early morning shipment at Banana Republic, and bartending some fabulous Maine Mixologist events. I also currently have two work study jobs at Wheaton during the 4 days a week I am on campus including the job I first started the Fall semester of my freshman year with my SFS family.
A Liberal Arts education, especially one from Wheaton, is the best possible preparation for me to pursue my passions and further excel in my career goals. Completing my degree in Political Science from Wheaton is something I have been determined to accomplish for the last 7 years.
I have always been certain of my educational goals. Growing up, education was always valued in my family. My parents have always encouraged my sisters and I to pursue our goals, and they have given up so much and done everything in their power to help us achieve what we set out to do. My grandparents also lived just a few houses down the road and continuously helped foster this. My grandfather worked most of his adult life as a foreman for a fencing company and my grandmother worked at a mill on the banks of the Androscoggin River in Lewiston, Maine. Being the oldest of fourteen children and the son of immigrants in Van Buren, Maine, my grandfather never completed high school, but he always instilled in his five children and twelve grandchildren that education was never out of reach. All of us were expected to complete secondary education and pursue our educational goals thereafter. Earning my undergraduate degree is something I am committed to and ready to accomplish.
I have been incredibly fortunate to continuously be able to call Wheaton College home. My life has certainly changed immeasurably since that summer before Wheaton. While I will no doubt continue to grow and learn new things about myself and the world, I am sure that I want to walk across that stage in the Dimple and receive my Wheaton diploma.
I strongly believe that I did everything possible and worked as hard as I could before returning to Wheaton to be able to independently fund my last two semesters. However, the reality of the costs and a decreased weekly income due to only being available to work in Maine Friday-Sunday have created a financial hurdle that I'm just not able to jump.
I think it's only fair to outline what expenses the goal I set above would go towards.
As a student who lives off campus this is what the cost of attendance is for the Spring and Fall Semesters:
Spring 2017 Tuition & Fees: $24,506
Fall 2017 Tuition & Fees: $25,425
I gratefully accepted a grant of $15,000 from Wheaton for both semesters totaling $30,000 for the year. For the spring and fall I have taken out a total of $12,500 in Stafford Loans. I have also paid $3,400 from my savings towards my tuition bill.
This leaves a little over $4,000 remaining to be paid.
I know I am asking a lot from my friends, family, colleagues, and maybe even some strangers who encounter this page. A contribution of any amount is an investment in my future, and in my humble, unbiased opinion I think such an investment is a solid venture.
Immediately following the end of this last semester I plan on continuing campaign work for at least the 2018 cycle. Thereafter, I am determined to pursue a career in public service; whether that be in state or local government or joining a nonprofit organization in an area I am most passionate about such as LGBT rights or healthcare.
I without a doubt plan to pay forward any generosity that is shown to me on this page and that has been displayed to me over my years at Wheaton by looking down the road for the next kid that needs help achieving their educational goals and investing in their future.