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Nomadic student gets help to pursue college dream
Leadership program offers key skills
Ian Wilson, 17, a senior at Buford High School, works on a bit of anatomy homework Friday inside his apartment in Buford. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Buford High School senior Ian Wilson, 17, hasn't had an easy life.

He and his mother, Jeanie, were homeless for years, bouncing from a friend's house to a relative's house and back. They spent time living in motels, in their car and even in a tent on Lake Lanier.

"I switched high schools five times. It was between three schools, but it can get difficult because switching in the middle of the year can mess up your grades, which is what happened to me," Ian Wilson said.

There wasn't much continuity, nor was there stability.

"We were pretty much left to our own devices," Jeanie Wilson said. "Ian was born mature. ... It's been his hard work that got him where he is."

"Where he is" is renting an apartment in Buford, paid for by the money he saved up over the summer working two different jobs, at Buford's Red Sky restaurant and Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Gainesville.

The apartment is the first stable home Ian Wilson's had.

"If I got a stable home, it was a good thing," he said. "Once I got that, I could work to my goals of going to college."

Wilson wants to attend the University of Georgia and get a degree in environmental engineering. Despite his big dreams, there remained one problem: finances.

Though he said he is good at saving money, when an opportunity opened up to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum on National Security: Exploring American Diplomacy, Intelligence and Defense, he was stuck.

"I was nominated by Buford High during my sophomore year, but I couldn't attend due to the high price that came with the nomination," Wilson said.

But then his half-brother, Paul Burris found out about the nomination. Wilson said Burris pulled out his credit card and paid for him to attend the program this year, held Oct. 11-16.

"They made it sound prestigious. It was so formal and it struck me as something important," Ian Wilson said.

With a desire to work for the government after college, he needed all the experience he could get.
The program came with college credit from George Mason University in Braddock, Va.

"The combination of interacting with professionals and with other students in this setting ensures that leaders are being developed so the future of our country can remain very bright," Marguerite Regan, director of academic affairs for the program, said in a news release.

The program had students use critical thinking, leadership and public speaking skills to evaluate how the U.S. government plans for peace and crisis response. They learned diplomacy, international affairs and military strategy from civilian policymakers and military personnel.

"You learn everything about positions in government. There's a simulation. ... Ours was North Korea having nuclear arms there. We came up with a plan of action," Wilson said.

The program kept the students busy with a schedule from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.

The chance to attend was an opportunity that Wilson wants to remember each day as he fights the stress of his situation and continues to follow his chosen path. He is grateful to his brother and to those who helped him through the years.

"The generosity of people sometimes — it's pretty nice when someone lets you stay in their house for a few months," Wilson said.

For students in a similar position, Wilson said to try hard in school and not let the situation drag them down.

"Keep focused on what is going to make your life stable and just think long term," he said.


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