KOKOMO, Ind. — To a teenager growing up in Haiti, the idea of an American college education seems like an impossible goal.
But if you tell Mike Francois something is unattainable, it makes him want it more — and work to make it happen.
In May, Francois, 21, will achieve the impossible, graduating from Indiana University Kokomo with a degree in finance. He’s already set his next goal and plans to earn a Master of Science in Accounting.
“One thing about dreaming big is that every day you wake up and you’re a little closer to what once seemed impossible,” said Francois, who grew up in Port-au-Prince, and now lives in Peru, Indiana. “Ever since I was a kid, I was always ambitious, I always wanted to be more than I was. I want to be remembered as the guy who started from the bottom and made it.”
Making his parents proud motivates him to do his best, as repayment for the sacrifices they’ve made to provide a better life for himself and his brother. His father grew up without family, in an orphanage, and was determined his own sons would have more opportunities.
“He did his best to teach us different languages, and put us in English-speaking schools,” Francois said. “My dad beat the odds. I want to have the same legacy.”
At 16, as he prepared to graduate from high school in Haiti, he began to dream about possibly going to college in the United States – even though obtaining a student visa would be a nearly-impossible feat.
“I decided what did I have to lose and I started applying,” he said. “I kept getting accepted, and the letters were encouraging. Then I figured, why not try to get a student visa, and go to the U.S. and try to go to college. So I did, and I got a visa, which is something that is completely impossible.”
After earning an Associate of Science in Business Administration from Ivy Tech Community College, he forged ahead toward his ultimate goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in business.
As an international student, Francois planned to just go to class and study. He was surprised to find himself involved on campus, including working in the Library and serving as a mentor in the Office of Career Services. He participated in an externship program to check out careers in business in South Bend, and currently is an intern at City of Firsts Federal Credit Union.
“I feel like I didn’t get involved in the whole college experience until my last few semesters. Now that it’s almost over, the fun is just now getting started.”
He also made friends, learning about the American culture, while teaching them about his own. They’re usually surprised that he grew up speaking three languages — French, English, and Creole.
“A lot of my friends ask me questions like, ‘Does Haiti have chocolate?’ or ‘Does Haiti have pencils?’” he said, laughing. “It is a Third World country, and there are places that are poor, but Haiti isn’t under a rock completely separated from everyone else. It’s right under Florida.”
Francois plans to visit family in Haiti before Commencement. He hopes to serve as an example to young people there, of what is possible with hard work and a dream.
“I can use myself as an example,” he said. “Look where I started from. This all seemed impossible from my perspective, too, which is why I can be an encouragement.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.