On a recent Career Center Scholars trip, Carleton students were asked to engage in a role-playing exercise at a North Minneapolis nonprofit.
Employees laid out a worst-case scenario for them: The Board of Trustees has voted to eliminate financial aid at Carleton. How would you respond?
Students broke into small groups and assigned leaders to address various talking points about why scrapping financial aid was a bad idea for the school.
When it was his turn to speak as part of the final group, Jeffrey Bissoy-Mattis ‘16 did something different. He stood up and told his personal story.
Bissoy-Mattis mentioned his family roots in Cameroon, his time at various schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and how arriving at Carleton for a summer academic program introduced him to a world of possibilities. If not for educational studies professor Deborah Appleman keeping tabs on his progress—and financial aid allowing his enrollment to become a reality—he wouldn’t have been able to attend his top college.
Four years at Carleton has inevitably shaped Bissoy-Mattis. Likewise, his presence on campus helped shape Carleton.
In a series of interviews with senior students, we asked Bissoy-Mattis (American studies) to reflect on life as a Carl and the road to graduation.
HOW I GOT TO CARLETON
“I went to a small charter school in east St. Paul and had an English teacher who wanted me to work on my writing skills. He thought it was the one thing holding me back. So he basically told me, ‘You need to go to this Carleton summer program. It’s run by Deborah Appleman. There isn’t a better program you can go to.’
“I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it. My mom could only cover $200 at the time, but that same teacher vouched for me to get a summer job at the school as a janitor. I got some money from my church . . . it was all to get into that one summer program.
“I really liked campus when I saw it. It felt like a place I could see myself spending four years. But I wouldn’t be here without Deborah. During the summer, we built a relationship, and I think she saw my potential. We’d meet in the (Twin) Cities for coffee, and she’d just keep up on me, ask what I was thinking, what I wanted to do for college. She knew I had a long way to go—and still thinks that since she’s my adviser—but at the time, she told me, ‘You need to come to Carleton, because Carleton has something for you.’”
MY TURNING POINT
"Spring term of my sophomore year, I went to France and Morocco on a study abroad trip. It could not have come at a better time. I was actually tired of Carleton. I was frustrated academically. I kept hitting the same walls that I thought I got over, and I really started to feel like I didn’t belong. Here I am, this kid who is in college largely because of his public speaking skills, and I’m not even talking in class anymore. I just felt inadequate.
“There were too many negative thoughts, and it wasn’t until I went abroad and left campus that I really had time to reflect. I spent a lot of time thinking, ‘OK, you’ve been here two years now: ‘What’s gone well? What hasn’t? What do you need to do in the next two years?’ I think I finally realized that it’s all on me. In high school, I had my mom on my back and it forced me to do well. But at Carleton, I realized, ‘Wait, I’m on my own. But I’m also here for a reason. I wouldn’t be here if other people didn’t believe in my ability to be here.’
“I came back a more serious, grounded, and focused person. Yeah, I could still be the same goofy guy, but I spent more time in the library, less time with friends. I didn’t go out as much. It finally hit me: ‘Use your time wisely. Remember, you have all this work to do.’”
NOW THAT I'M ABOUT TO LEAVE
“There’s definitely a lot that I’ll miss. I was part of Carleton Football Club. I was an OIIL peer leader. Men of Carleton helped me feel comfortable with my black identity and motivated me to work toward making sure that male students of color could feel comfortable on campus. We went from single digit membership to 25 to 30 members. I’m really proud of that.
“But while I’m thankful for the four years I’ve had, I don’t think I’ll be sad when I graduate. I’m happy. Happy to have completed the journey. There were times when I thought about running away, but I’m so glad I stuck with it and will make it to this final step.”