“I always wanted to go to college,” says Enmanuel Cabrera ’23, a veteran who enrolled as a full-time student in the Carroll School of Management at 34 years old. While the traditional student at Boston College starts undergraduate studies directly after high school graduation, Cabrera’s path to a higher education was less linear.
Last spring, Cabrera became the first student to enter Boston College through the University’s partnership with Service to School, also known as S2S, a national non-profit organization that provides free college and graduate school application counseling services to veterans. S2S had recently established the VetLink network, which pairs those like Cabrera with fellow veterans who mentor them through the college admissions process.
Cabrera was born in the United States, but his family quickly emigrated back to their homeland, the Dominican Republic, before returning to the U.S. when he was five years old. He was raised mostly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has spent the majority of his youth and adulthood in the Boston area. Growing up, Cabrera says his mother’s “goal was to give [him] a better life than she had,” so she always pushed him to pursue a college education.
He re-entered civilian life during the 2008 Great Recession. “I struggled tremendously financially,” he says. “I struggled finding a job, holding a job. I spent some time homeless ... it took a long time before I was in a good, stable place to allow me to go back to school.”
Cabrera remembers feeling “hopeless” and “desperate” during his time in homlessness. He began nurturing some resentment toward higher education, feeling that all of the cards were stacked against him returning to school. In retrospect, he recognizes that fixating on these problems only prevented him from making progress. “Even business schools will teach you not to dwell on the past,” he says, “because that's considered a sunk cost”—a cost incurred that can no longer be recovered.
With his native charm, perseverance, and determination, Cabrera got back on track. He climbed up the ladder at a T-Mobile store where he has worked full-time as a retail manager. In 2019, he decided he was ready to return to school. Cabrera attended Bunker Hill Community College for his first three semesters, to see if he could balance his work life with his life as a student. “I wanted to prepare myself for the rigors of a university,” he says.
His intention was always to transfer, and with assistance from Service to School, he was able to enroll in classes at Boston College last spring. “BC really checked every box,” says Cabrera, who was drawn to the school’s prestige and Jesuit values.
During his first semester, Cabrera took a full course load, pursuing a management degree with a concentration in finance—a major he believes will help him both career-wise and with his own personal finances in the future. While enrolled as a full-time student, he continued to work full-time as a retail manager at T-Mobile. “I get no days off. My days off from work, I’m in class. My days off from school, I’m at work,” he said during an initial interview for this story last spring.
As he sees it, COVID-19 was to some extent “a blessing in disguise,” because asynchronous and hybrid classes allowed him to keep up a 40-hour work week. Last semester, Cabrera was only on campus three days of the week, and for very limited hours. Though the remote learning environment created flexibility in his schedule, Cabrera, like many, encountered the academic and social challenges that came with online education, making it hard to become fully integrated in college life.
A New Semester—and New Experiences
Despite the challenges of an atypical year, Cabrera is upbeat about his experience as a student at Boston College. “The professors have been simply amazing,” he says. “They are always willing to go above and beyond for their students … and have so much experience and knowledge in their field of teaching.” He says his professors have been understanding of his work schedule and happy to spend time out of class to answer his questions and provide clarity on difficult topics.