I first met Antoine Taylor last fall. Somehow he had stopped by my office at Saint John's unintentionally, and we got to talking. I recognized his name from the loudspeaker at our home football games, but I knew nothing else about him. Quickly I discovered his story is much deeper than the 325 yards he ran and the touchdown he scored in his sophomore season.
A native of Los Angeles, Antoine had not heard of Saint John's growing up. While he was accustomed to recruiting visits from coaches at D-I and D-II state schools in California, he'd never considered attending a small liberal arts college, let alone one in rural Minnesota.
To Antoine, it seemed that a football scholarship at a public university was perhaps his only path out of the impoverished neighborhood he knew. Athletic achievement was the only success he'd observed. Antoine grew up essentially fatherless, and with few other mentors, he risked going down an unpromising path. But his mother was strong - an angel, in his words - and she guided and supported him. Whatever chance he had for academic and personal success, he owed to her.
When Matt Beirne of our admission office told Antoine about Saint John's, a community which wanted him to be more than one-sided, he was interested. He applied and was accepted, but it was when he received his academic scholarships that he fully committed to Saint John's. The President's Scholarship and Intercultural Lead fellowship rivaled anything the public schools would do for him. So he flew north.
All that has changed his life. In addition to his pre-med studies at Saint John's, Antoine has become an entrepreneur. With four other students, he's created a clothing company called The Cause, borne of an idea in his dorm room. The company sells high-quality, custom-imprinted socks to schools, teams, clubs and businesses. The Cause donates a portion of its already-growing profits to charities which help children and single mothers like his own. He explained that The Cause is his way to honor his mother for her sacrifices. But it's also a pursuit founded on the support and friendship he's gained at Saint John's.
Last Thursday I invited Antoine to tell his story at a reception for donors to the Student Fund, the people who make his President's Scholarship possible. It was a heartwarming speech, and he impressed us not only with his honesty, but also with his gratitude. He ended his remarks with the following:
"Being a Johnnie has changed my life completely. Thank you for all of your contributions, because none of this would have been possible if it wasn't for you. Your gifts to Saint John's have saved my life."
Needless to say, the Student Fund donors in attendance last Thursday knew they had done something worthwhile. And when I announced that The Cause had created a special pair of Saint John's socks for each guest in attendance, they became beneficiaries of their own investment.
Today more than 6,000 donors contribute annual gifts of all sizes to the Student Fund, providing scholarships for motivated students like Antoine. And for these young men, Saint John's is a life-changing place.