-- Jeremiah Lundgren Knew Drugs, Violence, Hunger and Expulsion
From Two High Schools; on May 27 He’ll Receive a Master’s Degree from Queens College --
FLUSHING, NY, MAY 24, 2010 – The early years of Jeremiah Lundgren, 34, were filled with abuse, homelessness, abandonment, and substance abuse. Yet this Thursday, when he dons his graduation cap and gown and marches to the stage on the Queens College Quad to receive his Master’s degree in Urban Studies, those days of hardship and despair will be the farthest thoughts from this high school teacher’s mind.
Lundgren, who never knew his father, was mentally and physically abused by his stepfather who, he says, made him “feel worthless.” He was 14 when his stepfather abandoned the family. Money for food was so tight, they often subsisted on ketchup or mustard sandwiches. Unable to pay the rent, Lundgren, his mother and siblings split up and went to live temporarily with various friends and relatives before moving to a government-subsidized apartment in Long Island City next door to a crack house.
All these hardships took their toll on the young teenager: Lundgren picked fights, cut classes, and took drugs. He was expelled from two high schools and only completed ninth grade. A father by the age of 15, Lundgren worked at a succession of menial jobs while his mother looked after his daughter and three younger siblings. At the time, six people were living in a small, two-bedroom apartment.
Throughout all these trials and tribulations, the one constant in Lundgren’s life was his mother. “She’s been my rock…standing by me even when I took the wrong path….letting me make mistakes and helping me move on,” says Lundgren. So sure was her belief in her son’s potential and capabilities that she urged him to continue his education and go to college.
“I had always tested in the top 10%; but because of my violent behavior, I was overlooked and placed in the worst classes,” he says. “After awhile you tend to fulfill the low expectations people have of you.”
Buoyed by his mother’s confidence in him – “and her financial and emotional support” – Lundgren earned his GED at age 19. He then enrolled in a computer technician program and lined up a good job that was contingent on his obtaining a college degree. He chose to go to LaGuardia Community College where he had a life-altering experience.
“I met some amazing, enthusiastic professors who made me feel that my opinions were important,” says Lundgren. “For the first time I felt good about myself and about learning. I got A’s and B’s in all my classes which had never happened before.”
After two years at LaGuardia, Lundgren applied for and received a partial scholarship to NYU, where he worked in their Upward Bound program, which provides educational opportunities to economically disadvantaged high school students with disabilities, while taking classes. He graduated in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences Education for grades 7-12 and accepted a position as a social studies teacher at Middle College High School on LaGuardia’s campus.
Lundgren explains that to continue teaching secondary education he had to get a graduate degree. So in Spring 2008 he decided to come to Queens College, where he “knew he was home.”
The professors whom Lundgren met at both QC and LaGuardia inspired him to become the teacher he never had in high school – “someone who connects with you and can understand the struggles of working-class life…what it’s like trying to survive in a violent or single-parent home.” He has been teaching for the past six years. The Middle Village, Queens, resident is now happily married with three daughters and a supportive wife who helped him through graduate school.
Lundgren is quick to admit that he never could have turned his life around without his mother’s selflessness. He says he is grateful she will be in the audience at QC’s Commencement to cheer him on, just as she has always done.