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The Incredible Story Of How A Reporter Followed An At-Risk Teenager’s Journey All The Way To Yale

The Boston Globe’s Billy Baker shared a really special story on Twitter Monday night.

1. Billy Baker is a feature writer for The Boston Globe. On Monday night he started tweeting out a really incredible story.

2. Now mind you, it’s a little long, but absolutely worth it. Definitely read this until the end!

But once a day, that bus transformed into the charter bus to Boston Latin School, one of the great symbols of hope in this city.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

At that moment, I was looking for hope. I had seen some rough things. A lot of people who saw no end to their struggle.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

And I wanted to end the series on a positive note. When I saw that bus go by, I knew immediately that I had found my story.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

I rode the bus for a while, talked to the kids on it, went fishing for the right story for this series.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Then one day I met a man named Emmett Folgert, who runs the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, and he told me he had the perfect kids.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Emmett Folgert is a lot like Boston Latin School. He lowers a ladder down into a pit for kids who have nothing, and helps them climb out.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

So one day, I went to Emmett's office and met the kids, two brothers named Johnny and George Huynh.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

They were quiet. They didn't quite know what was going on. But Emmett told them that their story was important. They agreed to share it.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

I spent weeks with Johnny and George. I went to school with them. I went home with them. I ate dinners with them. Slowly, they opened up

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Their home life was extraordinarily difficult. Their parents had come from Vietnam and their father had fought alongside the US.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

After the war, they went through incredible struggle, finally making their way to the US in 1992. But their problems did not end.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

There were cultural problems. There were mental health problems. There were problems in the marriage. And there were huge money problems.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

But they had three children, Johnny and George, and an older sister.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

The kids grew up inside that struggle. Food was always short. So was money. They had nothing. I've never seen anything like it.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Shortly before I met the boys, their father had taken his own life. He jumped off the Tobin Bridge in Boston.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

That left them alone with their mother. She didn't speak English. They didn't speak much Vietnamese. They were alone in their own house.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Watching these kids make good from almost nothing was the most special thing I've ever seen as a journalist.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

The opportunity to share their story was a great privilege. And it got a huge response. Huge. I wasn't the only ones touched by them.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

24. Then Baker shared the original Globe story about George and Johnny.

They were worried about having money to buy the paper, so the night before, I took them to the Globe and let them pull it off the press.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

After the story ran, our story was just beginning.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

I stayed close to the boys, partly out of an obligation, but mostly because I cared about them. They inspired me. And they were fun.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

But I also became something of a mentor to them. Freed from my constraints as a journalist, I could step into their lives and help.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

They had little cracks to fill, crazy things I never had to think of. I paid for prom tickets and Christmas gifts and dinners.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

They paid me back in so many ways, mostly by just keeping their head down and doing their work, like they had always done.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

When I first met them, Johnny was a junior and George was a sophomore. Johnny graduated last year and went to UMass-Amherst.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

I drove Johnny to college and bought him a dorm fridge. These are the cracks I'm talking about. George came along for the ride.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

And Emmett Folgert became a mentor to me, teaching me how to mentor. Stay on them, he'd say. Stay in touch. Ask questions. So I did.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

As college time rolled around for George, I became involved. I helped him with his essays. Did the sort of stuff a parent would do.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

And George was shooting high. Very high. His grades were outstanding. His story was compelling. He wanted to go all the way to the top.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Which brings us to today. Today is a very special day for George. A day he's worked his whole life to get to.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

We've been trading texts all day. We were both nervous. He had applied for early acceptance to his dream school. At 5 p.m., he would hear.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

As 5 rolled around, I started pacing around the Globe. I went to get coffee. I bit my fingernails.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

I told him that no matter what happens, he had done all he could. And we'd go to dinner regardless. Either way, we had to celebrate.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Shortly after 5, he texted me: I GOT IN. I was sitting at my desk, and I started crying.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

These boys are the nearest I've ever come to that thing we call The American Dream. But this was too much. George got into Yale.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Rather than continue blabbering at my desk, I've retreated to the cafeteria to share this story.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

On Facebook, George wrote: "Yale University!!!! Thank you to everyone who's helped me get here!" I wrote: "You got there on your own, bud."

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

I have a tough time putting their story into words. It's about hope, sure. But it's about helping yourself. These boys did. We all can.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

So now I'm going to stop crying at my computer, I'm going to sneak out the door, then I'm going to take George out to celebrate.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Sorry for flooding you with this experiment. But it's a story about what's right when we spend too much time writing about what's wrong.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

So I'm going to head down Dot Ave. to Geneva Avenue, one of the toughest streets in Boston, and take George out. He deserves it.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

I'll check back in later with some photos and updates. I'm so proud of this kid I can't even stand it. He's getting a big hug.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

50. After Baker was done with his amazing story he introduced George to everyone following him.

Say hi to George, everyone. "Smile if you just got accepted to Yale!"

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

51. And made sure to throw him a celebratory retweet.

YALE

— George Huynh (@InspirAsian9)

So we've had a chaotic hour. We went to see Emmett. George received about a million texts. And then we spent forever deciding where to eat.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

And we've ended up at Wahlburgers! Seems fitting for a Dorchester kid made good to celebrate with a burger cooked by a Wahlberg.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Plus the burgers come with government cheese.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

55. Oh, and if George’s day wasn’t amazing enough…

I forgot to mention the other big thing that happened to George today: He got his braces off.

— Billy Baker (@billy_baker)

Baker took some time out of celebrating Monday night to speak with BuzzFeed about not only how excited he was for George, but also about the amount of attention his Twitter storm of happiness had received.

He said that when he got George’s text in the Globe’s newsroom he couldn’t help but start crying. “For this to happen, for this to be the outcome of all the hard work and sacrifices, it just seemed impossible,” Baker said.

As for why he chose Twitter and what led him to just keep tweeting, he said it was actually born out of frustration. He wanted to tell the world how proud he was and found that 140 characters just wasn’t enough.

“If you really want to say something meaningful and emotional on Twitter you just find yourself running into that 140 character limit so much that I just kept trying until I deleted it and said ‘I’m going to tell you a story,’” Baker said. “Then I just started typing and I really never stopped for how long it went on. I just kind of kept writing.”

Baker also can’t believe the amount of attention the storm caused and can’t help but laugh that once again George and his brother Johnny became an inspiration to readers.

“It started to dawn on me that once again these two kids from a rough neighborhood in Dorchester had touched people’s lives and that’s something special,” Baker said. “It’s that special position we sit at in the media where we can shine light in dark corners and when I shined that light on them they were already shining on their own.”

He also sent over these two very adorable photos of George and Johnny picking up a copy of Baker’s original article about the two of them.

Courtesy of Billy Baker

Courtesy of Billy Baker

 

58. Good luck guys!

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