It was in his seventh grade guidance counselor’s office that Nursing first-year Gavin Arneson first fell in love with NYU. To him, the diverse and culturally vibrant atmosphere is what he had been missing from the small mountain town of Idaho Springs, Colorado where he attended middle and high school.
Having already experienced homelessness twice before graduating high school, Arneson said NYU symbolized everything he wanted out of life.
“I had kind of a hard time growing up,” Arneson said. “I think I wanted to get away from that so NYU is kind of symbolic and synonymous with that.”
Up until his junior year of high school, Arneson dreamed of attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Life, however, would send him in a different direction.
“I was big in theater but things that were going on in my life didn’t really let me devote the time that I needed to think about acting,” he said.
Instead of spending time in the theater, Arneson had to find work in order to help his older brother support his father, who had fallen ill and was going blind during Arneson’s junior year. In the summer before his senior year, Arneson held three jobs at Calvin Klein, a local restaurant and a pizza chain based in Colorado called Beau Jo’s.
Additionally, due to what Arnerson referred to as complexities of the health care system, his father was largely unable to receive disability benefits, something that would eventually prompt Arneson to double major in nursing and public health.
“There were things that he couldn’t prove,” Arneson said. “It’s hard to prove that you’re blind to the point where you can’t work, you know?”
In December of Arneson’s senior year, his father passed away leaving Arneson to finish his high school career alone.
A Path Traveled Alone
Two days after his father’s passing, Arneson received an eviction notice from his landlord. As Arneson later found out, his father hadn’t paid rent for the past five months leading up to his passing.
“It was two days after my dad died — there was an eviction notice on our door,” Arneson remembered. “The landlord didn’t know that my dad had died obviously. Or, I hope he didn’t know.”
Eventually, Amerson managed to find an affordable apartment through a friend and pushed through his final semester of high school while also working full time.
Despite all this, Arnerson attributed a large part of his current success to the tightly knit community that he had in Idaho Springs.
“They were here for me in ways I can never even describe,” he said. “If I ever needed anything, 10 people would be there to help me.”
The Road Ahead
Even now at NYU, Arneson is still self-reliant. On top of acting as the director of service at the Founders Residence Hall, working as a volunteer with Hakook — an organization that supports homeless New Yorkers — and being a full-time student, Arneson holds two other jobs.
“I don’t have parents who are back home supporting me,” he said. “I paid for my own phone bill and anything that I want to purchase comes out of my own pocket.”
Fortunately for Arneson, one thing that doesn’t come out of his own pocket is his tuition. As a Rory Meyers Scholar, NYU is footing the bill on all four years of his tuition.
In an email to WSN, Shawn Abbott, the assistant vice president and dean of Admissions, spoke about Arneson.
“We were already compelled by his achievements in light of his ability to overcome a number of challenges including homelessness and his dad’s recent blindness,” Abbott said.
Abbott said that Arneson’s battles with homelessness and perseverance made him an ideal candidate for the newly created full tuition Rory Meyers scholarship.
“I could not be more proud to have him at NYU,” Abbott said.
Arneson is already making waves as a research assistant under Allison Squires, an associate professor at Rory Meyers.
Squires’ research looks at patients in home care with limited english proficiency. More specifically, she looks at patients who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Spanish or Russian. Arneson’s role in her research, which began at the start of the spring semester, is helping with interviews while also participating in team discussions on research patterns and trends, according to Squires.
“Gavin’s a great kid,” Squires said. “Given the life that he’s had so far, he’s really quite a mature student and really diligent about his work. I’ve really come to appreciate his attention to detail and his willingness to be open to trying new things.”
Squires is also helping Arneson adjust to New York life.
“I think one of the things we’re trying to do at Meyers is make sure that all of our Meyers Scholars that are coming in, really have as easy a transition as possible,” she said.
Despite these difficulties, or maybe because of them, Squires believes Arnerson has excelled.
“When you face adversity in your past, you’re more resilient in terms of your ability to transition,” she said.
Transitioning is something that Arneson is no stranger to. Arneson’s story has been featured in many newspapers and yet he still loves to share it.
“The reason I do this story is so people can feel inspired or feel like they can overcome anything that comes their way and my message is one of resilience,” he said. “Life is gonna throw things your way, but you can overcome anything you want if you want to overcome it.”
Email Paul Kim at [email protected]