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Richford’s Xavier Wood: making a difference through health care
In the fall of 2020, Michelle Legere walked into the sophomore-class advisory group at Richford Junior-Senior High School to introduce herself as a brand-new VSAC Outreach Counselor. Even on her very first day at work, she knew that Xavier Wood was a standout.
“The students took turns introducing themselves and sharing their thoughts about careers after high school,” Michelle recalls. “I remember Xavier from that day as a student who already knew that he was going to be a nurse. He said it with such confidence that I knew he would make it happen.”
While Xavier exuded confidence about his career path, his confidence in college was another story. He really wasn’t sure he would be able to go, he recalls.
Growing up, his family story was that life sometimes got in the way.
His father got sidelined from his career—dairy farming—after an injury. And his mother had just started a nursing program when she had Xavier at 19, so she had to leave the program. While she eventually completed her degree in business management—no small feat, with three young children at home at the time—and now has a thriving accounting career, Xavier says she was disappointed that she never got to use the UVM Green and Gold Scholarship that would have paid for her college education.
And for Xavier, the high cost of college—a much bigger obstacle now than it was a generation ago—seemed an insurmountable barrier.
“While I definitely knew I wanted to work in a health care field, I was actually very close to enlisting in the U.S. Army as a medic during my senior year,” Xavier recalls. “At the time, I didn’t think I would ever be able to afford college.” It was a source of tremendous stress for him. However, his parents had a sense that things would work out, and they encouraged him to hold off on signing the enlistment papers until he saw what came from his college applications.
His parents’ intuition proved correct. Today, Xavier is midway through his second semester at the University of Southern Maine’s nursing program, where—thanks to a generous financial aid package and the State of Vermont’s forgivable loan program for nursing students—he is essentially getting a free education.
Xavier’s inspiration to work in health care came early in life. “My uncle had cerebral palsy, and he had care workers with him all the time. Growing up, it was something I saw myself wanting to do.”
During high school, Xavier took steps to confirm that that spark of an interest would indeed lead him to a good career fit. Michelle Legere recalls that Xavier was always an active and enthusiastic participant in GEAR UP events and programs that helped students explore college and career pathways. He attended a half-day class at his local tech school during his sophomore year to learn more about medical careers. And Xavier notes that the “Try a Major Day” field trip to the NVU campus was particularly helpful. “They had different workshops, and you could talk to several students in the majors you were interested in, and ask them questions.”
During his junior and senior years, Xavier worked in the Alzheimer’s and dementia care unit at Our Lady of the Meadows, a retirement and assisted living facility in Richford. “That was a really good experience getting hands-on skills and knowledge. I realized that a healthcare setting is not for the faint of heart. In order to want to do your job, you have to really care about what you’re doing. It makes a difference,” he says.
Xavier is hoping to make a difference in his home community once he returns to Vermont after graduation. (The Vermont Nursing Workforce Incentive Forgivable Loan Program requires students to work in Vermont after college for one year for each year of college financed under the program; in Xavier’s case, he will have a 4-year work commitment.) “I would like to work in northern Vermont and help out my community. Growing up in Richford, I’ve seen a lot,” he says.
As far as the adjustment from high school to college, Xavier notes, “There’s no one here telling me what to do. That was interesting. I didn’t realize how ‘not-independent’ I was until that time.”
However, he also sees the other side of the coin: that his parents’ love and support was a critical factor in getting him to this point.
“I think a big part of my journey was the support of my parents. If they didn’t keep pushing me, I wouldn’t be at college right now. It was something I honestly didn’t think I was capable of. I surprised myself.”
For additional information on college and career planning and help with financial aid from VSAC, go to vsac.org/financialaid and check out our online workshops and events. To find out about our programs for adult students, go to vsac.org/adultlearners. You can also call 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and visit online at email@example.com.