Brothers Irvin and Topiltzin (TP) Gomez don’t want to be the exception; they want to be the rule.
“My brother and I both agree we hate being poster children,” Irvin said.
“Imagine how powerful it would be for our communities if, within each graduating class, every student had the same opportunities we had. Our story could be replicated time and time again.”
The brothers – Irvin is 27, Topiltzin 23 – have a remarkable story indeed. Both alumni of Waukegan High School and undocumented immigrants from Mexico, they graduated from Dartmouth and Yale, respectively. Irvin was salutatorian at Waukegan; Topiltzin was valedictorian.
Their parents both speak little English. Their father has a third-grade education and works at a warehouse in Elmhurst. He wears either a Yale or Dartmouth hat every day.
“We owe everything to our father and mother in instilling in us this desire to be exceptional to make the most out of the sacrifice they made to come to the United States,” said Topiltzin, who lives in Pittsburgh and works for a loan crowdfunding company that provides fair credit to small businesses.
The Gomezes also give full credit to the Schuler Scholar Program for their academic achievements.
Since 2001, the Lake Forest-based Schuler Scholar Program has partnered with more than 1,400 scholars – including mostly first-generation students, students of color and low-income students – and sent them to highly selective colleges and universities. Of the 1,400-plus scholars, 94 percent complete an undergraduate degree at the country’s top liberal arts colleges and universities.
Both brothers have been involved with the program since their freshman year of high school.
“The Schuler program has literally changed the trajectory of our lives and our family’s life,” said Irvin, who resides in Boston and works for a company that helps Fortune 500 enterprises break down initiatives into projects, then helps them find external and internal resources to achieve them.
Irvin also is in the process of applying to MBA programs, including the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.
“Our story is not just about students who are smart or students who work hard,” Irvin said. “It’s a combination of support from teachers, family and the Schuler program. That’s what it takes for stories like ours to be true, and it is the Schuler Scholar Program that is able to rally all of those elements together and put it into one place.
“The program expanded my horizons and perception of what I could achieve and what was possible.”
Gayle Meyers, Director of College and Alumni Programs for the Schuler Scholar Program, said the Gomezes remain heavily involved with the organization.
“Schuler provides support to its College Scholars through mentorship, internships and professional development opportunities. The program has grown and changed a lot since they were college Scholars and I have actually appreciated their input and hearing about their experiences and feedback as we structure new programs,” said Meyers, of Deerfield.
Since its first partnership with Waukegan High School nearly two decades ago, the Schuler Scholar Program has teamed with more than a dozen Chicago and Chicago-area high schools since its founding, and expanded to Milwaukee last year. The program has invested more than $100 million since 2001 to support its Scholars.
The Gomez family emigrated from Mexico when Irvin was 10 and Topiltzin was 5. Despite their age gap, the brothers have been relatively close, with Topiltzin following in his older sibling’s footsteps.
After Irvin discovered what was possible for him through the Schuler program, he admits he put tremendous pressure on Topiltzin to surpass him.
“I’ve always put a lot of pressure on my brother,” Irvin said. “The reason for it, we were both undocumented, and for us to get a chance at these top schools, we had to be nothing but perfect. I expected him to aim for the Harvards and Yales of the world because I knew he could do it. I was so thankful Dartmouth took me, and I expected him to achieve at a similar or higher level, which he has.”
Irvin also noted that their story is only possible because of DACA – “otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to work,” he said.
“We hope to be an example for what can happen when young people in our community are believed in and supported,” Topiltzin said.