The air is crisp and amid the sounds of traffic and people all around, Karl Sully Guerrier notices the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot as he hurries down the sidewalk to his next class. It’s his first autumn and what could be better than autumn in New York City at Columbia University.
A native of Haiti, Sully Guerrier, 24, transferred here after receiving his Associate in Arts degree from Palm Beach State College this past spring. He’ll earn his bachelor’s degree at Columbia as a PALS Scholar.
The Program for Academic Leadership and Service is a Columbia University scholarship designed for students who might not otherwise be able to attend an Ivy League university. As a first-generation college student and a member of a historically underrepresented group at Columbia, Sully Guerrier also qualified with his summa cum laude record as a PBSC Honors College graduate.
First Impressions: I love it at Columbia. I was just having a conversation with someone from India, and she was telling me all about Bangalore, where she’s from, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘what are my friends going to think of me now?’ I’m speaking with people from all over the world.
Yet in many ways, his journey to the Ivy League began in 2004. That’s when his family emigrated from Haiti to South Florida to seek better medical treatment for his mother’s multiple sclerosis. He was 10 years old.
Learning English as fast as he could, he was determined to fit in. “I wanted to be treated like the other students. I didn’t want anyone to feel as though I was not capable of either understanding the material or turning in an assignment.”
Sully Guerrier’s mother passed away the summer before his senior year of high school. The grief was hard to process and his grades suffered. After graduating from Miami’s William H. Turner Technical Arts High School, he went to Miami Dade College, but after two semesters, he decided to take a break. In his church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – it is customary for men to go on a mission when they turn 18 or 19. Sully Guerrier spent the next two years in Houston, helping residents of humble communities.
“I took away something very valuable from that experience. I think when you lose yourself in the work, when you see that other people have bigger issues that they’re coping with, you forget about your own. The mission changed me. I realized there’s more to life.”
Future Dreams: I’m interested in journalism, broadcasting and education. My major is ethnicity and race studies because I feel that it will complement my ambition to bring different perspectives and different cultures together. I want to create content and be a voice that contributes to complex conversations. I want to make a difference.
When Sully Guerrier returned to Florida, he saw it as a second chance to make something of himself. His family had relocated to West Palm Beach, and he kept seeing cars with PBSC parking stickers. He started at Palm Beach State in the 2015 summer semester and before long, PBSC became his home away from home.
“How quickly I became involved is so shocking to me…if PBSC had dorms, I would have been sleeping on campus. I was there 24/7, and the resources and connections I made over those two and a half years were incredible. I had people that I could just talk to. They’re family because they were supportive in getting me where I am today.”
Sully Guerrier joined several student clubs and held a series of work-study positions, becoming a valued member of the Student Activities and Academic Advising staffs. When he heard about PBSC’s Dr. Floyd F. Koch Honors College, he set his sights on getting in. It took him about two semesters to achieve the required 3.5 GPA, and his PBSC experience took off.
Being in the Honors College was a life-changing experience, and when he got the work-study assignment as the assistant to its manager, Marcella Montesinos, he relished the additional exposure to faculty, administrators and his peers. He played a key role in launching the Panther’s Closet, a campus thrift shop that supports students financially, and was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
Montesinos recognized his potential, and Sully Guerrier recalls a pivotal conversation that he had with her about what universities he should consider transferring to for his bachelor’s degree.
“She said, ‘Karl, we have to dream bigger, we have to shoot for the stars. Why not apply to Columbia University?’ And I said, ‘Miss Marcella, are you insane? Ivy League – in New York City
– are you serious? There’s no way that’s going to happen!’ She has been my motivator and my support throughout.”
He strongly believes that he would not be at Columbia University if he hadn’t gone to PBSC first.
“There’s absolutely no way that I would be here. Yes, I was in a more mature place when I came back from the mission, and I was driven to be successful, but lucky for me, PBSC was there to make it happen.”
Best Advice: A lot of students forget that your network is your net worth. You have to speak with everyone. You have to put yourself out there and take advantage of all the resources that PBSC provides to be successful, and that’s exactly what I did.
Sully Guerrier is now working hard to keep pace with 400 pages of reading a week, not to mention the papers and exams. He’s also working at Community Impact, a Columbia University service organization, helping immigrants learn English and get acclimated. The job provides a way for him to give back and makes great use of his French, Creole and the Spanish he acquired on the mission.
“It really helps to step out of your comfort zone and do something for others. For me it’s very important to look outside myself in order to move forward.”