Wade Southwell rode into Springfield on a bus 2½ years ago; last week, he left the Ozarks on another bus.
What happened to the OTC student between the two bus rides is a tribute to Southwell’s personal determination and academic perseverance that few might dare to attempt.
The 25-year-old battled homelessness and addiction issues while living in Las Vegas and the California area before heading to Springfield.
Once here, he enrolled at OTC. Last year, he traveled to South Africa to study there. Now, he’s headed to New Haven, Conn., where he will enroll at Yale University in the fall, becoming the latest in a line of OTC OTC students to attend some of the nation’s most prestigious universities.
Southwell returned to Springfield last month after a year in South Africa studying the Zulu language; he was the only recipient in southwest Missouri of the prestigious Boren Scholarship, which provided him with the means to study abroad. While in South Africa, he began planning his next step in furthering his education.
“Going to Yale seemed like a lofty goal but I wanted to do it, so I started contacting staff there,” he said.
Southwell applied to Yale, Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania (all Ivy League institutions) and New York University. All but Brown accepted him for admission.
Two weeks ago, he learned that he had been offered a full-tuition scholarship to Yale, thanks in large part to his time spent in South Africa.
“The OTC slogan of ‘Start Here, Go Anywhere’ really inspired me, along with faculty and the OTC Honors Program,” he said.
Southwell also received a strong endorsement from Amado Antonini, an OTC graduate who is now attending MIT in Cambridge, Mass.
“I read his story in the newspaper and thought if he could do it, so could I,” he said. “We met and talked and he told me to go for it.”
Southwell went through the rigors of applying to Yale that included two face-to-face interviews over Skype with an admission official and a current Yale student.
“They were grueling interviews. I was sweating. I wore a button-down shirt but I had shorts on. They couldn’t see the shorts,” he said.
Before leaving for Yale last week, Southwell said he will miss the friendships he started at OTC but knows he’s headed in the right direction.
“I saw myself as a successful student,” he said. “I might have been naive at first to think I could do this but I know now that I can really do this.”
Steve Koehler is coordinator of media relations at Ozarks Technical Community College.