My American Dream: Pre-College and 10 Years Later

By Patrick T. Murphy, Pullman Scholar Alumnus, ’09.

“Always be dissatisfied with what you are, if you want to arrive at what you are not yet. Because whenever you are satisfied with yourself, there you have stuck… Always add some more, always keep walking, always forge ahead.”   – Augustine of Hippo

Ten years ago, fear clenched me. I was preparing to conclude a significant portion of my life. I had just spent an entire summer mopping floors and cleaning lockers at my now-alma mater, Marian Catholic High School. I was a high school senior working to pay tuition, and I became inundated with the all-too-typical worries: Should I really pursue my dream, or should I play the safe route? Can I even afford this thing called ‘The American Dream,’ or is that something now reserved for only a select few? Does that American Dream—beyond the white picket fence and the suburban house—exist anymore?

Ten years ago, I was doubtful. The American Dream? It seemed like a concept in a history book as opposed to something we should all seek out. My family had seen many hardships: a trying divorce with my estranged father, the repercussions of racial discrimination from generations before me, an exhausted mother working three jobs trying to support my three sisters and me with the occasional help of food stamps.

Ten years ago, my dreams seemed unattainable. With the enormous cost of college, it seemed an unwise choice to get a degree in theater or become a musician for that matter. I had never even taken a music lesson in my life, and yet, it was a part of my American Dream: study to be successful in theater and express myself through music. However, like anything worth effort in life, the sacrifices, accompanying my leap of faith to enroll at Loyola University Chicago, made the experience all the more challenging and rewarding. I didn’t imagine that ten years later I’d be the president at 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, Illinois, as well as an independent recording artist. And yet, I mention these accomplishments not to boast, but rather to affirm to any reader that you are the creator of your own destiny and that the American Dream you want in the future is a present reality. It exists NOW.

Today, I am seizing life for all I can. This Pullman Scholar has come a long way, but I realize that I have not reached my full potential. And boy, am I glad for that, too. The day that I feel I am satisfied is the day I stop reaching, pushing, grasping ( a nod to my favorite quote above). I am now enrolled in a nonprofit management master’s program and am happily employed in the fundraising office of a Catholic religious order. I’ve come to realize how vitally important education is far beyond where it can take us in society or our career, but where it can take us in the human experience. Education is the fuel for our minds that keeps us yearning and growing.

My American Dream now? Help others seize life for all it can be and bring happiness to the world. Had it not been for the scholarship and support from the Pullman Foundation, I would not have developed into the man I am today. I like to humbly think that the Pullman Foundation has done more than impact just my life. Far from it, the support I received is now indirectly impacting the lives of those whom I try to support in my daily work at the theater, religious order, in friendship circles, and family.

20140529_gpf_1820_patrick_jeff Patrick (right) hosting the “Q & A” session at the 2014 Pullman Scholar Symposium. Pictured with Jeff Tryka, Pullman Scholar Alumnus ’92.


Today, I am blessed with a great gift. The Pullman Scholarship has led me to a place where I now am fortunate enough to give back to the foundation to help others whose shoes I was once in. This past year, I volunteered as a Pullman Scholar Alumni Selection Committee member, wading through essays of so many deserving scholarship candidates. Each story I read was invigorating to visualize the passions of a new generation, as well as humbling to think that these students are in similar places as to where I was ten years ago. Their essays were the truest stories of trying hardships, overcoming adversities, and dedicated persistence in pursuit of their dreams.

I am now a member of the Pullman Foundation Associates Board. I donated an annual gift to the Foundation, knowing that my gift will be used in support of someone just like me. I volunteered at this year’s Pullman Scholar Symposium to help current Pullman Scholars practice professional networking and make meaningful connections with alumni and one another.

All of this is to say to those high school seniors and college students with big dreams that may seem impossible to accomplish right now: just keep working hard toward your goals and passions. Ten years from now you may reflect on the past decade, in awe of where you were and how far you’ve come, hopefully living your own American Dream.

And to those of us who are lucky to be living out our dreams, remember where you came from, the hard work you put in, and what you can do to give back to others who are taking the first steps of their own journeys.