Early struggles give way to college, the White House and Yale

See all Posse alumni stories

When he was 14, Troy Simon spent many of his days tap dancing for loose change on the streets of the French Quarter in his native New Orleans. Just four years later, he was getting ready to attend Bard College on a full scholarship as a member of their first Posse.

“When I saw myself going the wrong way, and my friends dying, it made me realize that I was going to die, and I had to make a decision,” Troy says.

One of his days outside dancing, he had a chance encounter with his old fifth-grade teacher, Sarah Bliss. With her help and support from other community organizations, Troy confronted the fact that he had been struggling with semi-functional illiteracy for some time. He wound up becoming a dedicated student.

“He really just wanted to learn to read,” said Sarah, of that turning point. It was not easy, but Troy says that Sarah listened to him, had patience with him and was persistent.

When he was growing up, Tory’s family had always had money problems. As a young child, he didn’t engage in school, and got in a lot of fights. He remembers a teacher telling him, “I don’t know why you come here, get out.”

“I felt that no one really cared about me,” he would eventually confess in his own TEDxNewOrleans talk entitled, “Education as a Vehicle for Liberation.”

The thought of going to college rarely ever came to my mind.

Troy now believes in the power of education to change lives.

With a growing network behind him and the power of his own renewed determination, Troy graduated from Sci Academy, a charter high school that focuses on college preparedness.

No one in his family had ever gone to college. "The thought of going to college rarely ever came to my mind until I made it to high school," he recalls.

When Troy was selected as a Bard College Posse Scholar, he was excited because he knew that with Posse behind him, he could achieve even more.

His Posse became “nine other amazing students who are leaders, who motivate me and teach me, who have diverse perspectives and who can open my mind,” Troy said during his time at Bard.

In 2014, while Troy was still in college, Michelle Obama and President Obama invited him to speak at a College Opportunity Summit at the White House. He told his personal story on stage, focusing on his struggles with illiteracy. He introduced Michelle Obama, who joined him on stage with a hug.

Troy Simon with First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama in 2014.
Troy Simon with First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama in 2014.

“If I didn't have people say, ‘Hey, I believe in you...’ I don’t think I would be where I am today."

These days, he is studying for dual master’s degrees at Yale Divinity School and Yale School of Nursing. Troy says he was inspired to pursue this unique program by his experiences volunteering at the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. Speaking to young patients made him see a new way he could help people.

"I saw how I wanted to contribute to healthcare as a theologian," he says.

With a focus on pediatric nursing, Troy hopes to study global healthcare disparities, with an ultimate goal to return to New Orleans and care for his community. He wants to help other kids reach their potential.

“If I didn’t have the educators, the teachers, the people in my life to come say, ‘Hey, I believe in you,’ I don’t think I would be where I am today,” Troy says.

Bard Posse 1

Share your Posse Story

Feeling the #PosseLove? Doing something exciting that you want to shout from the rooftops? We want to hear about how Posse has affected your life and the world around you.