Derrius Quarles is a “million-dollar scholar” from the south side of Chicago. It’s a rare juxtaposition, but simply uttering those words makes you realize that Derrius is a rare individual. Still in his early 20s, Derrius is proud to relate his “hero’s journey” (a journey he is still very much on) and hopes that his many experiences will inspire others who face their own uphill climbs.
From his bio: “As a product of the Illinois foster care system and the south side of Chicago, higher education did not seem like a feasible possibility for him. More accessible were the fleeting opportunities of the urban streets.” When Derrius was four years old, his father was murdered, and the following year he was taken away from his mother’s custody. “Traversing the foster care system for nine years, the challenges of the inner-city almost led him down a path of crime and fast money.”
Everything changed one morning in high school when a caring biology teacher said to Derrius: “You have so much potential, and yet you choose to waste it.” Those simple words were an awakening to Derrius. “Of course I can do it,” he thought. And he did. In just the next few years, he was awarded more than $1,000,000 in academic scholarships – an amazing feat for any student (the following video details his journey from childhood to college).
Although there were many potential scholarships available when Derrius sought financial aid, there were no resources on how to apply effectively. Upon his college graduation, Derrius made it his mission to help other promising students tap the potential financial resources available for higher education. He founded Million Dollar Scholar, a social business that bridges the scholarship information gap and provides tangible resources to help students gain financial aid to fund their dreams. He talks about his business and “how-to” book here on CNN.
Million Dollar Scholar offers writing tips and free writing feedback, resume help and templates, simulated interviews, and more. With the tools and training necessary to have a winning shot in the “scholarship race” readily available, Derrius is attempting to make college more affordable for those who need it to be.
My sincere thanks Derrius for leading by example, for morphing your struggles into wins (both for you and others), and for taking the time to answer our questions.
The 10 questions:
IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE?
To create change in my community and the world by being a gentleman when difficult, a servant when needed, and a rebel when necessary.
HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU?
It has changed me in many ways. It has helped me identify the most important features of a personally fulfilled life. For instance, achieving personal goals like becoming the first in my family to gain a college education is amazing, but through helping other students do the same with Million Dollar Scholar, I have realized that being a catalyst to others' goals is much more challenging and rewarding.
Now, I cannot imagine giving effort to a profession that did not have this dynamic – catalyzing others – at its core. This work has shown me that entrepreneurship is not the paradise life so many websites, personalities, and organizations these days are promoting it to be to my generation. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I am a part of a generation being inundated with too much positivity when it comes to entrepreneurship.
Now this is Talking GOOD, so of course we rep the positive, but I realize now that there must be a greater balance in the message because the reality of entrepreneurship is that the struggle is real. It requires a tenacity and tolerance for risk that cannot be fully understood when you are only doing it part-time as a hobby or side-hustle. Thus, this work has helped me see that some things can only be fully comprehended from the inside looking out. I am more patient today than I was previously; I place greater value on being a leader than I do being in charge, and I owe all of this to the work I have committed myself to.
WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING?
I once wrote in my journal “to give selflessly is my selfish motive.” This statement not only rolled off the tongue well, but also it perfectly summarized what I receive from giving: joy. Like many changemakers, I derive a unique happiness from giving and am not ashamed to say that, especially giving things that cannot be easily quantified unlike money or time.
WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE?
Nelson Mandela is definitely a living hero for me, and if I had the privilege, I would ask him two questions: 1. What advice would your 30-year-old self provide to young leaders who want to create change in their local and global community? 2. What wisdom do you currently offer young leaders who want to create change in their local and global community?
WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS?
Well, in the world of social entrepreneurship we could all use some more funding; it is surely no different with my goals at Million Dollar Scholar. However, greater than the funding, I would say quality business advisement and mentorship in the realms of business, scaling, and sustaining social impact, will be key resources in this arduous journey to growing Million Dollar Scholar into the first financially sustainable educational technology and services company focusing on financial accessibility of higher-ed. We are also currently looking for someone to manage our social media so we can increase awareness and enhance our visibility.
WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY?
How expensive does higher education have to become before we pause and realize that we have made something so integral to the progress of society inaccessible to the average citizen?
WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE?
Well, humbly I have authored a book already, but it's a how-to for students looking to go to college for free; one can learn more about that here. Now it sounds like you are looking for a memoir-esque book title and that would be The Star Amongst Darkness.
TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC?
Actually, this is something I have never shared in public. I only have one picture of my father in my possession. It is a picture I received when I was 15 years old. I keep the picture taped to the last page of my passport. For me, this is a very special place to keep it because I know that my father never had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States.
Really, he did not have the opportunity to do many things because he was murdered in his early 30s. I often ponder what his dreams were – where did he want to go, what did he want to do, what was on his bucket list? Essentially, there is no right or wrong answer because I was so young when he was murdered that my memories of him are basically stories other people have told me, thus, the possibilities are endless.
I have traveled to 15 different countries in four years, and I have traveled with him by my side on every adventure. Even if he never wanted to go to any of those places (though I believe he did), I have dragged him along with me, and in my heart I feel that he would be both grateful and proud of me for it.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING?
"The entire world will move for a person who knows where they are going."
WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
QUESTION: What is your definition of failure? ANSWER: Accepting mediocrity when greatness is possible.
• This article was originally posted at Talking GOOD, a series of interviews with “citizen philanthropists” who champion causes and lead by example. Talking GOOD was launched in 2012 by Rich Polt, principal of the Baltimore-based PR consultancy Communicate Good, LLC. To nominate someone for a Talking GOOD interview, please fill out this form, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.