CHICAGO (CBS) — A high school senior who lives in one of Chicago’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods has received a full scholarship to one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports Westinghouse College Prep student Matthew Collum has accomplished something any student should be proud of: a full ride to the University of Chicago.
But this incredible teenager deserves special praise for the difficulties he’s had to overcome to get there.
“I was dealing with my mother’s drug addiction,” he said. “I witnessed a lot of murders, a lot of shootings.”
Gangs and drugs are a way of life in the Lawndale and Austin communities where Matthew grew up, but he said he simply let the guys on the corner know very early on he wasn’t interested in that life.
“When people walk up to you and say ‘We’re about to do this, we’re about to do that,’ you just have to walk away,” he said. “I knew that being part of a gang wasn’t going to get me into college.”
Matthew won a full scholarship to the University of Chicago thanks to a near-perfect grade point average – placing him 6th out of a class of more than 200 – and scoring a 30 out of a possible 36 on the ACT exam.
Asked what made him so motivated, Matthew said, “I wanted a better lifestyle for me and my family, and I was tired of being poor.”
Toni Minter, who taught Matthew in 7th and 8th grades, said, “He took school very, very seriously.”
Minter said Matthew had an ability not to make excuses for the challenges in his life.
“It’s like he accepted the challenge. Even though things were going on at home, he knew in order to … get out of the environment that he needed to succeed,” she said. “It just swells my heart … because he made it.”
Matthew said, “I’m happy that I have this opportunity, and I’m glad that I can be a role model to other kids.”
Matthew is in the first graduating class of Westinghouse College Prep. The original Westinghouse High School closed several years ago, and reopened in 2009 as a selective-enrollment high school.