Scholarship Fund Founder Hooman Tavakolian

This scholarship means a lot to Lorelei, Jon and I, but it has a deeper meaning for me. Although I am one of the founders of this scholarship, 25 years ago I was a perfect candidate for a scholarship like this. My parents and I came to America in 1986, leaving behind our war-torn country. My parents liquidated all of our assets and sent everything over to the US in hopes of a better and safer life. Upon arriving in Long Island, we were faced with some unfortunate circumstances relating to our family, and we were left in the dark, broke and practically homeless. We had nothing to go back to, and we had nothing in the states. I was 9 years old, spoke very little English. My parents didn’t speak English nor did they have any friends. We were forced to live with the rest of my family in my grandmother’s basement.

Imagine living in a small 3-bedroom home that slept 12, with one bathroom.  We had no income and lived day-by-day trying to make ends meet. I delivered penny savers on the weekends and earned 40 dollars, which helped my parents with the utility bills. We eventually collected enough money to buy a small colonial home next door.  We qualified for free lunch at school.  It was weird showing the “free-lunch pass”.  Naturally, the rich kids made fun of my brother and me. We even qualified to receive a free turkey for Thanksgiving.  We were living in poverty on the North Shore of Long Island.

The next 10 years were very hard.  The North Short of Long Island is where a BMW is an average car.  It was very difficult going to school dressed in clothes bought from Conway stores.  I was made fun of almost every day.  I was a chubby kid, wearing sweatpants that said “I love NY”, velcro sneakers and a home-made haircut.  Every dollar counted.  Our most difficult times were at month end when the mortgage was due – oh man the yelling in my house!  I dreamed of HBO. I dreamed of klondike bars. I dreamed of going to a basketball game. I dreamed of…many many things….I even dreamed of air conditioning.  My first experience with air conditioning wasn’t until I was 18 years old…aaahhhh, what a pleasure that was…it was well worth the wait.

I have so many memories similar to these, small things, like actually having my own value meal at McDonalds and not sharing it with my younger brother. I recall wanting to play basketball in 7th grade. Unlike the other kids, I didn’t have a basketball hoop in the driveway, since we didn’t have a driveway. I couldn’t afford basketball camps during the summer, not even basketball shoes… My mom saw how eager I was to be the Iranian Michael Jordan so she bought me a pair of Nike Air Revolutions on lay away. I was so excited!!!! I wore them and I instantly felt like a star. I went to the try outs. Guess what? I was cut on the first day. Now what, I thought, how will I look my mom in the eyes… she still owed the sneaker store money. So I decided to stay after school for a couple of months and pretend I was on the team. I just couldn’t see my mom’s face if she found out I failed her.

I can go on and on and share with you the various obstacles we faced growing up in NY. However, with all that was going on, I never lost focus of my dreams and goals. I faced the obstacles head on, I won some and lost some, but I always held my head high…I would rise, dust myself off and continue on. Throughout all this, I found sports, especially the sport of wrestling, to be my true loyal friend. I was able to escape all my worries when wrestling. I truly believe that what I learned in life from wrestling helped me achieve my goals. I may not be an All American or an ivy-league graduate, but I have overcome many obstacles of which I am proud of. They are the reason I am who I am today. My mom always used to tell me to achieve what you desire and don’t let anyone tell you that you CANT.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I never gave up. I continued my quest. I knew in order to escape poverty, I must achieve my goals, and I must BECOME MY OWN DREAM. Based on this belief, I decided to start this special fund, a fund that falls so close to my heart. I do relate with your struggle, but I applaud you for chasing your dreams and goals.

Before I leave you, I want you to think about this. If life did not have obstacles and challenges, then how would we strive to better ourselves? Always look forward, but never forget where you started or how you got there. Never forget the people you met during the journey. With hard work, dedication and belief, anything is possible. Stay focused, help others, give back to the people who need it. It’s not about how fast you get there; it’s about how you get there and how many people you help along the way to get to your final destination.

I wish you the best of luck in Becoming Your Own Dream. Thank you.

Hooman “Mo” Tavakolian