Can Bill Gates Rescue Evelyn Cabrera?

The journey of one high school senior through the small-school experiment of America's most generous philanthropist

The school held its ceremony at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who had helped Principal Soguero when he was arrested the previous year, spoke to the students about their civil rights and their future. But Evelyn, sitting with her friends in her bright red cap and gown, could barely focus on Lieberman's words. She just couldn't believe she was graduating. "I was so proud of myself," she says. "I was really, really excited."

The Bronx Guild faculty felt just as proud. They took bets before the ceremony about who would cry. Almost all of them did.

Evelyn Cabrera in the doorway of Bronx Guild High School, her alma mater.
photo: Fiona Aboud
Evelyn Cabrera in the doorway of Bronx Guild High School, her alma mater.


See also:
Lost and Found in the Chalkboard Jungle
A Bronx kid's year in the Bill Gates experiment
Photo Slideshow

At the end of the ceremony, each student was given a rose and told to give it to someone important in his or her life. Evelyn couldn't choose just one person, so she gave single petals to her friends, her boyfriend, her teachers, and her aunt. She gave the stem to her mother. She would have included her father, but he had to work that day.

By graduation, Evelyn had been accepted to New York Institute of Technology, but she decided not to enroll. Instead she moved in with Ben into a one-room apartment on the Grand Concourse that they rented on a week-to-week basis. By July, their relationship was falling apart; they were arguing constantly. They got into fights—physical fights. In the last one, both claimed the other drew blood. After that, Evelyn moved out.

During July and part of August, she worked as a counselor running the zip line—a skill she learned with Outward Bound—at a summer day camp in Westchester. But then she quit before the camp's session ended because her wrist was hurting all the time.

Evelyn then chose to do City Year, a community mentoring program that provides college tuition grant money to its participants after they complete a year of service. She was set to begin the program at the beginning of September, but quit when she went to the City Year office to register because she didn't like all of the rules, which included restrictions like no gum or headphones, and no sitting on the subway. Plus, the weekly $200 stipend just wasn't going to be enough to pay for the apartment she wants to rent.

Just before students return for the 2006–2007 school year, Evelyn goes back to the Bronx Guild as teachers are cleaning up their classrooms and preparing for the first day of school. She confidently walks from classroom to classroom, greeting her former teachers with hugs and asking them if they missed her. They all want to know what her plans are.

"I quit City Year," she tells them. And they immediately try to convince her to give it a try. "I know City Year is hardcore," Jeff Palladino tells her. "But it might be the better choice in the long run."

But Evelyn won't listen. She explains that she can earn more working at Starbucks in two days than she can in a week with City Year. What she wants more than anything is to live on her own and not have to depend on anyone else. For now, her plan is to work as much as she can, get her own apartment, and start taking college classes in January. "These people think I'm going to work at Starbucks my whole life," Evelyn says. "I understand what Jeff's trying to say that it's not always about the money, but sometimes it is. Right now, I need to survive."

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