When it was time for him to consider college, Jonathan McBride felt pressure from
his father and grandfather, who said they wanted him to be the first male to graduate
from college. “I felt if I failed at any moment, there would be all this shame,” he
So when he had a rocky start his first semester, failing an economics exam, he panicked
and called his mother, telling her he had to get out of the class. What he didn’t
know was his father — a pastor at 16 who drove a bus to supplement the family’s income
— was listening on speakerphone.
“He asked, ‘Do you have $2,000? Because that’s what that class cost me. Your family
doesn’t have money just sitting around for you to drop classes just because it gets
a little hard. You can get through this, you can pass this class.’”
McBride went to see his professor, wondering how he could recover from a 33 percent
on an exam. The professor gave him some coaching, and McBride also began scanning
the Wall Street Journal and Business Week to become familiar with economics terms he hadn’t heard at home.
The business administration and finance major from Zion, Ill., earned a B on the next
few quizzes and passed the class with a 76. That convinced him that any class he took,
he could pass.
By the end of his freshman year, the 3.8 grade point average he’d brought from high
school had evaporated to a 2.0 in college. But a year later, he pushed it back up
to 3.0. Although McBride balances academics with running varsity track for Illinois
Wesleyan, he doesn’t mention that to his professors because he doesn’t want anyone
to think he’s asking for a break.
Several schools offered him athletic scholarships, but after he visited Wesleyan with
his father, the decision was made.
“My dad looked at me and said, ‘You are going to this school. This school can offer
you so many opportunities.’ It was culture shock. I came from a large African-American
community, but this is probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Karla Carney-Hall, vice president of student affairs and dean of students, helped
him transition to campus, he says. She told him about the University’s Summer Enrichment
Program for MALANA students, which he participated in for two years. The rigorous
10-week program immersed him in the community through a paid internship at the Community
Cancer Center and provided workshops and activities for academic, team-building and
This spring, McBride began working as a marketing intern for COUNTRY Financial in
With the help of financial aid and jobs he’s held along the way, including serving
as marketing coordinator for Sodexo, he hopes to graduate next spring with $15,000
in loans. And when he gets that job in Miami or New York, he wants to repay his parents,
who also took out loans. He sees their debt as his.
“My one big goal in life is I want to be successful so I can pay off the loans for