“I am now, I guess, a Texas Ex,” admits Jeremiah Guy-Williams. “It’s different, still, saying that.” Saying goodbye to The University of Texas at Austin has been bittersweet for the McCombs School of Business alumnus. Guy-Williams is a first-generation student who graduated in only three years and the first recipient of an Impact Scholarship, which amounts to $48,000 and is given to incoming freshmen who have made a difference in communities around Texas, to graduate. When Guy-Williams received his diploma, it had been more than a year and a half since he’d been on the Forty Acres; after a truncated study abroad experience in Sydney in spring 2020 (“It was great! I miss Australia.”), the COVID-19 pandemic meant that he’d had to take his last year of classes remotely.
Currently, the Corpus Christi native is in Denver for his first postgraduate job as a program manager for DISH Wireless, a new wireless carrier. Over Zoom, we spoke with him about the process of becoming a Longhorn and how his Impact Scholarship shaped his time at UT.
How did you learn about the McCombs programs when you were in high school?
Jeremiah: I remember the first day I met Charles Enriquez [director of McCombs undergraduate recruitment and scholarships] –– it was at an event in Corpus and I was super nervous. I just see him sitting in a corner, and we struck up a conversation and I asked him what he did. He’s like, “Yeah, I work at the business school. You know, I feel like you’d be really great for our summer program.” He was telling me about the McCombs Future Executive Academy, and he said, “Oh, you should apply.” So I applied and I was like, “You know, if I get in, I get in. If I don’t, it’s OK.” I ended up getting in, and it was a five-day camp –– they pay for everything, take you to Austin, you get to experience McCombs classes, meet students, walk around campus, just be fully immersed. It was at that point that I discovered that, OK, maybe business is for me!
I also went through DYNAMC (Discover Yourself in Accounting Majors and Careers) and Subiendo Academy for Rising Leaders. Those academies not only just build your connections with the students, but also with the faculty and staff. It’s very daunting, first semester –– you’re like, “Oh, these professors, can I talk to them? Is it going to be scary? What do I do?” But having those connections and being able to meet the professors beforehand, you gain that confidence, [like] “I’m going to go ask for help and not feeling ashamed or anything like that.” A lot of my professors I have amazing relationships with, and mostly that’s because I gained that confidence from those summer programs.
Can you take us back to that day when the admissions team surprised you with an Impact Scholarship?
Jeremiah: I was actually at my grandparents’ house, and I heard people in my living room. They sounded super familiar. They’re like, “Jeremiah, where are you at?” I go to my living room and I see Charles, and he’s like, “Hey.” I was looking at him like, “It’s great to see you, but what’s going on here?” Just having them tell me all the things I had been able to do both in high school and with the summer camps at McCombs and just being offered that Impact Scholarship, I honestly wanted to cry. My grandparents both cried because they knew how much it was a struggle for me, just trying to figure out how was I even going to afford college. There were also times where I was like, “Am I even going to be able to go to college?” because it was just so much. Having that weight off your shoulder, that burden just disappear –– it was just that feeling you get like: “I can actually do this. Somebody believed in me so much that they’re giving me an opportunity to make something for myself at a place where I never even thought that was possible.”
Do you feel like there were unique challenges and joys that came along with being a first-generation student at UT?
Jeremiah: I think there were a lot of both. There are a lot of challenges. I did have to work two jobs during college, almost all three years, just to make sure that I could still afford things and help my family back at home. When I was graduating this past weekend, all my entire family were psyched. They were like, “Oh, my gosh, you’re graduating from college. That’s something that we have never seen before. What is commencement?” I had my grandmother, she was sitting in her room, she’s like: “I have these outfits. What do I wear? I want to make sure it’s perfect.” It’s knowing that even if they can’t express it verbally, you just have that feeling of being proud. I think that’s one of the biggest joys of saying, “I’m the first in my family to graduate from college.” Now I have younger cousins; I set that stage for them. I let them know that this is possible. This isn’t some distant dream. This is an actual reality. You can make this happen. Having that type of mentality not only myself but within them as well, it’s something that I really love.
What advice would you give to current and future Impact scholars?
Jeremiah: Definitely take a leap of faith. I have gone through so many experiences that I never would have even thought of. Going abroad never was on my radar. Actually saying I’m a college graduate, never even thought it was possible. There are a lot of things that happened, whether it’s internships, jobs, events, activities, whatever it is, that [wouldn’t have happened] if I didn’t say: “You know, let’s just try it. The worst that could happen, I don’t like it or they say no or I get denied.” Just do it and go out there exploring new passions, being outside your comfort zone. Make those things really personal to yourself and do those things that are really true to you and keeping that mentality going forward –– that is by far the best advice I can give. I probably would be nowhere near where I am today if I didn’t just say: “You know what? Let’s just do it. Let’s just try. Let’s believe in yourself.”
[New Impact scholars are] walking into this big family, with big open arms, like: “Just come on in. Come to the cookout. We’re here waiting for you.” I feel like that is something that’s really amazing, especially going into college. As the years go by, and that group gets bigger –– I’m really excited for next year, too, because now I’m going to be [part of] an alumni network of Impact scholars! I can now share what it is like looking for a full-time job and internship, things like that. Next year, when there’s more Impact scholars graduating, they can be that wealth of knowledge. I’m excited for the future because it’s setting the stage where there’s this huge program that doesn’t just stop once you leave the Forty Acres but continues on into your professional career. I have friends who are aerospace engineers –– one was working at Boeing and actually in Denver, also an Impact scholar. I’m just like, “Hey, you can come visit me after COVID dies down a little bit!” I’m really excited that everything’s piecing together and being this big community and support.