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Lavar Wagner
Stephanie Gross
Lavar Wagner

Graduate Exemplifies Value of Mentoring

April 27, 2000 -- Mentoring's life-saving potential is obvious to Lavar Wagner as he remembers his friends who grew up with him in Bedford-Stuyvesent. This poverty-stricken area of Brooklyn is one of the most dangerous in New York City. None of his friends completed or even attended college; many are dealing drugs, and all still walk the neighborhood streets, at risk of being robbed or killed daily.

Wagner, who will graduate May 21 from the University of Virginia, has a new life for himself and, thanks to a good job, with a hefty signing bonus, plans on giving a new life to his mother, his sister and her three-year-old daughter when he pays for their move soon out of the small, overcrowded apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesent to a safer neighborhood.

The son of a single mother, Wagner was able to visualize a world outside the slums because a mentor from the investment firm Morgan Stanley (now Morgan Stanley Dean Witter) encouraged him to consider college and the business field. As part of the mentoring program, he spent time in an office, where he saw the stimulating mix of computers and business. "I discovered I had a natural passion for technology and the business world," remembers the 21-year-old son of Ruby Wagner.

The mentor assisted him in selecting college preparatory courses, studying for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests and giving him the will to succeed. After graduating as valedictorian from Chelsea High School in New York City in 1996, Wagner entered U.Va. with a variety of scholarships and financial aid packages.

A double major in management and management information systems in U.Va.'s McIntire School of Commerce, he entertained several job offers. He chose a position in information technology consulting with PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City -- a position that will easily pay more than his mother earns as a telephone operator. Despite the fact that Wagner won't start his new position until August, his mother has begun researching a new home in a better section of Brooklyn or Queens.

Although he doesn't feel safe returning to his old neighborhood -- someone recently pulled a gun on him in his mother's apartment building -- Wagner has made a point of spending time at his high school to describe the value of higher education to students. He has also served as a mentor to minority students through U.Va.'s Peer Advisor Program, which matches upperclass minority students to new minority students. In addition to advising as many as six students a year through that program, he has served as a mentor every Wednesday at the Youth Alive Center, a service project of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. He also serves on the resident staff of Gooch dormitory, where he interacts with dozens of students daily.

"I feel it's important to give something back, both to the University community and to my hometown. I hope I show students that you can face obstacles and still persevere," he said. "Lavar has shown me that anyone from anywhere can make it and succeed at anything they put their mind to," said U.Va. student Joe Berhan, a psychology major who regards Wagner as his role model. "I lived with Lavar during our second and third years, and I do not know of anybody who could lock themselves in their rooms and work all Friday and Saturday nights like he did."

For Wagner, who has served as president of two student organizations, the fraternity chapter and the Black Commerce Student Network, one course at U.Va. stands out as his favorite. "I think the 'Multiculturalism Education' course taught by Bob Covert should be required for every student. It takes aspects of every individual's life and brings them out into the open. Such an experience fosters better communication and trust. It promotes bonding. I want to carry that approach with me into the corporate world."

Wagner, who hopes to be the head of his own firm one day, says he has two central goals after moving his family to a safer place. "I want to feel comfortable financially and I don't want to feel like I have to watch my back -- to hustle -- all the time. I want to be at peace."

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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