VSAC Student Success Story: Theo Avent connects people to inspire change
Theo Avent is an engaging, articulate leader who brings people together to inspire change. He’s had a longstanding interest in politics. Add in the fact that he’s the son of a white mother and an African American father, and you’d be sure we were talking about President Barack Obama, not a 20-year-old college student from Springfield, Vermont.
Indeed, the similarities to our former president are not lost on many, including Theo himself – who says he was inspired by Obama’s 2008 campaign (so much so, adds his college admissions counselor, that when Obama gave his last State of Union address, Theo watched the whole thing as some students do Game of Thrones).
However, Avent – currently a psychology major at Keene State College – says he doesn’t see himself going into politics full-time. Instead, he’d like to work with military veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder. “After their service to our country, it’s one way I feel I can give back – by helping them live their best lives once they come home,” Theo says.
Meet this young man, and you’ll soon see that wanting to elevate others is ingrained in his nature – whether it’s giving credit for opportunities he’s enjoyed or creating future opportunities that his entire community can appreciate. And at the top of his “credits list” is the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation – and specifically, his VSAC counselor, Holly Hammond.
“Holly came to the high school every week, and I met with her on a regular basis to get her advice on college options, applications and so on,” Theo said. “She also connected me with some amazing political opportunities,” including a shadowing opportunity at the Vermont State House and facilitating one of Theo’s lifelong dreams – meeting Bernie Sanders.
“I wanted to meet Bernie for the longest time. Holly and I kept working together to get him to come to Springfield High School. She connected me with a woman who worked in his office, and I had to beg for three years, but it happened, and it would never have happened without Holly’s help,” Theo said. As for his impressions of the Senator: “He’s just a really humble guy who is truly interested in connecting with young people.”
Connecting people is something that drives Theo as well. As class president for all four years at Springfield High School, he started an annual town hall meeting, in which student delegates, the superintendent, principal, and department chairs come together to discuss issues and examine policies that might need to be changed. “It’s an opportunity for students and administrators to hear from each other,” he said.
Theo also credits the Upward Bound program – a federally-funded college preparation program for high-achieving students from low income backgrounds – for opening additional doors. “I took college-level classes, got help putting together a resume, and even learned how to do my taxes,” he says.
While his family is low-income – his dad is his high-school janitor, and his mom works at a supermarket deli – Theo says his parents always gave him a wealth of support. “Neither of my parents went to college, but we always knew that they wanted us to go, and they did everything possible to get us there.” Theo says his mom and dad, his older brother Alex, who graduated from UVM in 2018, and his younger sister Zoe, currently attending Springfield High School – together with his girlfriend Jasmine and her mom Stephanie – “have been 100% supportive of me.”
Theo also got some financial support from the GEAR UP Scholarship and the Gilman Grant, which is awarded to outstanding students from Windsor or Orange counties. “That was a godsend. That money has helped tremendously. Without the money from VSAC, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college.”