At the end of his first year at the Community College of Philadelphia, Christopher Thomas decided that his goal — to go back to school and get a degree — was no longer worth it. He was in debt from thousands of dollars in student loans. After class, he rode a bus an hour and a half to a suburban restaurant where he worked as a waiter. When the shift ended at midnight, it took him three buses to get home. He couldn’t afford a computer, so in the middle of the night, he walked to his aunt’s house and used hers to finish his class work.
He got seven A’s and a C, but the plan was for eight.
Mr. Thomas was 36, living in a spare bedroom at his grandmother’s house and doing much of his sleeping on the Route 124 bus. “I’m done,” he told friends.
But he wasn’t. A woman in the college’s Institutional Advancement department, Patricia Conroy, kept sending e-mails about a $2,000 scholarship. “WHY DON’T YOU APPLY FOR THIS,” she wrote. He won one. Professors spoke about his promise. Friends said it would be a crime.