Four and a half years ago – when I first stepped foot on the American soil in the JFK international airport on a layover flight from Moscow to Los Angeles, I was clueless. With only a slight understanding of English, no actual life plan and $50 dollars in our pockets, my mother and I arrived to our new apartment not too far from Hollywood High School. Thinking it was a good idea for me to learn English prior to attending high school, I enrolled in Bancroft Middle School four weeks before the school’s 8th grade graduation date. After acquiring some basic skills in English, I enrolled in my area school – Hollywood High. I remember venturing around the school during lunch and being terrified by the fights, hostility and gangs on campus. I will never forget accidently walking into the gym during nutrition class and seeing a boy being beaten up by four others; I stood outside for a couple of minutes before having the red doors shut in my face and being told to mind my own business.
After experiencing the horrible scenery, I decided to transfer to a charter school in the Valley. I took on twice the workload compared to a regular student at my age. Two part time jobs became necessary in order to help pay for food and living for my family. After two years of education at the charter school, the school ran out of classes to offer me. This is when I realized that it was time for me to go back to Hollywood High. However, I’ve changed and as I found out later, so have my alma mater.
My junior and senior years were an entirely different experience. When I stepped through the entrance of Hollywood High School once again, I was surprised. The campus was violence free and clean. Students attending the school were happy and the faculty staffs were supportive. Ms. Heather Brown, my academic and life advisor, gave me the necessary workload and introduced me to other students and faculty members.
My senior year of high school was packed with countless college applications. Although Ms. Brown was not my College Counselor at the time, she helped me apply to a variety of higher-education institutions and scholarships. When January came around I couldn’t believe my eyes. Acceptance offers from universities were coming one after another. After careful consideration, I decided to attend the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania – a world famous Ivy League institution and home of the best business school in the nation. Yet there was one problem – there was no way I could pay the yearly tuition fee of $55,000. Little did I know, Hollywood High School had established connections with numerous foundations and even had its own alumni scholarship fund. After receiving a great amount of financial aid from the Alumni Association, Best Buy and the Change a Life Foundation, I was able to work out a deal with the University of Pennsylvania to fund the rest of the costs – essentially giving me a “full ride” to the university.
Did I take advantage of the opportunity? You bet. With so many things to get involved with, I decided to join a number of organizations. Within few short weeks of the fall term, I became a board member of the Wharton Business Law Association, an athlete for the Varsity Penn Football (sprint) team and a volunteer for the Big Brothers Big Sisters association. When spring term came around, I made the decision to pledge the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. The amazing networking opportunities at the University of Pennsylvania also allowed me to receive numerous internship offers. Last summer, I took on an internship from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. Now, I am currently working on my most recent internship at a multi-billion-asset management firm in downtown Los Angeles.
How did all of this happen? I don’t know. However, what I do know is that without the mental and financial support of Hollywood High School, I would not be where I am today. As a proud alumnus of HHS, I vow to continue my attempts at “Achieving the Honorable” and do everything I can to help Hollywood High School live up to its world famous reputation. It is my long-term goal to start a “full-ride” scholarship fund for future Hollywood High School students.
Vadym Budilovskyy, Class of 2011