With maturity and wisdom beyond his years, Edner Paul, 17, proves that the extraordinary truly is possible.
Paul grew up in the coastal city of St. Marc, Haiti, where life was difficult. Always unsure of his family’s ability to pay tuition, he attended school not knowing if he would be able to continue the next month. The thought of college never even crossed his mind.
For fun, Paul and his friends would play soccer in the streets with balls they made from plastic or string.
When he immigrated to Boston with his mother and four siblings at the age of 12, he knew very little English — Haitian school is taught in French — and found that he was far behind the other students.
Determined to conquer this linguistic obstacle, Paul went to his local library and began studying — and watching lots of American television. At first, he understood less than 10 percent of what he read and watched, but he continued to push himself — and with extraordinary results.
Paul quickly mastered English, and accomplished another goal — acceptance into Roxbury’s prestigious John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science.
And he only continued to flourish. Paul was accepted into Minds Matter, a non-profit organization that assists low-income students. With their guidance, he participated in summer enrichment programs at MIT and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
It came as little surprise then that Paul graduated as valedictorian of his class at O’Bryant.
With college on his mind, Paul participated in QuestBridge, another selective program to aid low-income students. Quest Bridge offered him a full scholarship to attend the college of his choice — as long as he was accepted.
So Paul applied to MIT, California Institute of Technology, Stanford and Princeton — and was accepted to all four. After selecting MIT, he enrolled as a freshman last fall, with ambitions to major in math and chemical engineering.
But halfway through his first year at MIT, an earthquake struck his home country — killing more than 200,000 people and injuring an additional 300,000.
Paul immediately called his family in Haiti, but was unable to get through for three days. He eventually learned that his family was safe, but that his father’s house had crumbled, leaving him homeless.
Paul has been involved in some campus charity efforts for Haiti, but remains focused on his pre-earthquake goals for helping his country.
Paul wants to improve Haitian education, and hopes to establish a U.S.-based non-profit organization. As he experienced first-hand, most Haitians do not have the resources to attend school regularly. Paul’s organization would offer financial assistance, in addition to developing better curricula and after-school activities.
“When you look at people and you’re seeing how much pain they’re going through because they don’t have the money to pick themselves up, or to think about their health, or to live somewhere comfortable — you start to question,” he said. “There must be a way to help these people.”
And this is precisely what motivates Paul, in both his own life and in helping others — the desire to see a better world.
“What I’ve been exposed to, and how much pain I see people go through, how much pain I did go through with my family — I just knew I wanted to change it,” he explained. “There are going to be times where you may want to give it all up because you feel like it’s too hard.”
But, as he advises other students, “It doesn’t matter how far you’re falling, you should always be willing to get up, and keep going.”
After school, Paul enjoys writing poetry and playing for the MIT men’s soccer team.
Despite his many achievements, Paul refutes those who consider him successful.
“I think I won’t really feel successful at any point in my life, because there are still things to be done to help people,” he said. “If you wake up every day, and you see the world as either the same or getting worse, that means there’s still more work to be done.”