Lowell Career Academy alumni Wilmer Santos, back left, and Anthony Mitchell, back right, recently returned to their alma mater with current students as part of the school’s Career Speaker Series. (Courtesy Lowell Public Schools)
LOWELL – “Anyone can come in here and talk to them, but when it’s someone who’s been in their shoes, it’s harder,” said Anthony Mitchell, 25, a successful entrepreneur and 2016 graduate of the Lowell Public Schools’ Career Academy.
Mitchell and 2017 Career Academy graduate Wilmer Santos, 24, a utility electrician, recently returned to their alma mater to speak to a group of students as part of the school’s Career Speaker Series.
“I want to show that even though I went to school here like them, I still made it and I’m successful today,” Santos said. “Nothing can stop you but yourself.”
The Career Academy, on Smith Street in the city’s Highlands neighborhood, is an 88-student high school program aimed at re-engaging students who have fallen off track in their educational journey due to various factors and need additional support. smaller learning environment, flexible schedule and competency-based teaching and learning. Career Academy graduates receive a Lowell High School diploma.
Santos said he always had a hard time doing school and “didn’t want to do anything.” He came to Career Academy as a freshman and arguably didn’t put in too much effort in his first two years. However, when his junior year hit, he started to mature.
“I got to know the teachers here and realized that they are very good people,” he said. “I started building relationships and thinking about the future.”
Career Academy helped him participate in Community Teamwork’s YouthBuild program, where he learned carpentry skills, became OSHA certified to work with power tools, and learned to work productively as part of a team.
With YouthBuild, Santos and Mitchell helped build two new classrooms on the school’s basement stage.
Santos recalled helping build a deck and stairs for a house under construction in the city’s Pawtucketville neighborhood and feeling a sense of accomplishment as the project took shape.
“I thought that was really cool,” he said. “I knew I didn’t want to continue with carpentry, but it certainly made me want to jump into a profession.”
Santos’ uncle is an electrician and started working with him after high school, as well as attending night classes two nights a week at Greater Lowell Technical High School, where he earned his electrician’s license.
Today, he works across the country on a variety of projects, from suburban home renovations to massive new office and apartment buildings in Boston. He enjoys working in different communities and exploring the different restaurants and cultural offerings in those areas. Every job is a new adventure.
“I get up early and work hard,” Santos said. “If your mindset is right and you’re dedicated, nothing can stop you.”
Mitchell said she dealt with a lot of anger issues as a teenager and had no interest in school.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “I started partying and hanging out with the wrong people. I always had my head down, sleeping in class.”
After failing at Chelmsford High School and Lowell High School, he enrolled at Career Academy, a school that he now credits for much of his success, “they always tried to give us every opportunity.”
In high school, he used his videography skills to start his first small business: filming music videos, soccer games and other events for clients.
“If you become valuable and offer value, the money will follow,” he said.
After high school, he sold cars, a job that taught him how to sell, build relationships, and talk to people.
He found himself bouncing from job to job, never quite finding that perfect fit. That’s when he decided he needed to change his approach.
“I knew in my heart that I was so much bigger than what I was doing,” Mitchell said. “I invested in myself; I was totally in my head.”
Mitchell said he started working online, meeting as many people as he could and learning what they do. He also learned how money and investing work and how to grow the income he is getting.
He currently runs five online businesses and travels with groups of people to learn how to make and grow their money.
“Too many people are chasing money,” he said. “You have to chase knowledge and problems; once you find solutions to problems the money will follow.’
Mitchell owns several properties in Texas, Florida and Tennessee, which he rents out through Airbnb, runs an online shopping club with 300 customers per month, is a real estate wholesaler, and is involved in NFTs and cryptocurrencies. He has a diverse business portfolio, works for himself and doesn’t have to punch a time clock.
He told the students that while they may not enjoy doing schoolwork, the basics of math and English are important to their future success.
“Follow this,” he said. “Learning these things will help you in the real world.”
He also advised them to be nice to everyone because “you never know who or what you might need in five years.”
Students in the class were asked to share what they are interested in doing in the future. They have big goals, including: dental school, studying mechanical technology at GLTHS, cosmetology school, law school, information technology and coding, and investing in real estate and gaming.