From Homeless to Student Government President
Jesse Nava ’20 Wants to be a Voice for Others
It was first-year orientation back in 2016 when Jesse Nava '20 did something he never expected, but that would change his life and the lives of others. In a last-minute decision, Nava stood on a stage in front of Bentley classmates, faculty and staff to share his story of becoming homeless — a story he had done his best to hide since middle school.
“When I was about 9 years old, my father evicted my mom, my sister and me from our home and onto the street,” Nava said in an emotional speech. “Three months after my dad kicked us out of our own home, he gave me a call and told me, ‘A boy who does not grow up with a father will never become a man and will never become successful.’ Boy, I wish he could see me right now at my dream school.”
Nava said that decision to share his story with classmates made a big difference.
“After I spoke, I felt very much inspired but also confident in that I carried that sensation of support and encouragement I received from the Bentley community.”
He became immersed in that community: He was a resident assistant and president of both the Bentley Microfinance Group and the Student Government Association, for which he also served as diversity chair. And he shared his story often. At a convocation speech to the Class of 2023, for example, Nava encouraged the first-year students to take advantage of opportunities, learn from failure, take chances and rely on the Bentley community for support.
“Without taking chances, you are going to miss out on all that this institution has to offer,” he said. “You never know what single act of bravery may impact your time here at Bentley. I wish for you the same experience that I have had in my past three years; one of maturity, love and most importantly, fun.” Most recently, Nava delivered a virtual commencement speech to his Class of 2020 in August. It was a full-circle moment, addressing the very group who had supported him when he first shared his story four years earlier.
Reflecting on what was the most challenging time in his life, Nava says he drew strength from his mother when they became homeless. “After my father kicked us out, we started walking out the door, and that was the moment that my mom became my idol and my hero. I was crying and asked her ‘Mom, where are we going to go?’ She told me, ‘Just follow me, son, everything is going to be OK.’ I remember seeing my mom crying but with her head held high.”
A Mexican immigrant with no family nearby in Riverside, California, Nava’s mother worked multiple jobs and attended night school to help the family eventually secure a one-room apartment about three years later. “I saw my mom work long hours and never once did she complain. That instilled in me an understanding that regardless of the situation you are in, there is always a way up through your hard work.”
The support that Nava and his family received from friends and local organizations further strengthened his faith. “Small acts of kindness made a huge difference to our family, and I knew that was a sign to me I would pay it forward later in life. But I also knew that I had to create an opportunity for me to be in a position to do that.” Opportunity came in the form of education. “Before I even knew what college was, my mother would tell me that I was going. As I grew older, I knew that I had to stay committed to schooling regardless of my situation at home.”
Looking for a business education and “a breath of fresh air” on the opposite coast, Nava set his sights on Bentley. He arrived on campus with a mission. “I wanted to make sure I found opportunities to help others in the same way that people and systems helped lift my family out of homelessness.”
At Bentley, that happened by working with faculty, staff and on-campus organizations to create a positive impact by applying the skills he learned as a Corporate Finance and Accounting major. Nava’s work with the Bentley Microfinance Group, a student organization that provides microloans for struggling entrepreneurs in and around Boston, was a prime example.
No matter the organization, Nava’s goal is to serve as a voice for others, and that led to him serving as Student Government Association president. He got involved with SGA after an internship doing legislative work and community outreach for Representative Jeffrey Sánchez at the Massachusetts Statehouse.
“An initiative with local businesses to provide school supplies and shoes to children in low-income housing facilities was very impactful for me because I recognized the power of government-business partnerships,” says Nava, who also did an internship with the State Department of Rehabilitation in California. “So much good can be formed by coming together.”
His career plans include a combination of business and government with a focus on healthcare, which was prompted by state and federal support his family received to pay medical bills brought on by Nava’s autoimmune disorder. (He is currently in remission.)
An internship at PricewaterhouseCoopers led to a full-time offer as a management consultant. Nava is now working on PwC’s Health Industries Advisory team to help healthcare institutions around the world anticipate and tackle complex business challenges.
“This role will give me the opportunity to learn about the healthcare industry by working with industry players like healthcare providers, insurers and pharmaceutical companies,” Nava says.
Now, as a recent Bentley graduate, he says he will continue to use his voice to be a force for others. “I plan on using my private and public sector experience to ensure that healthcare is accessible and affordable to those who are in a similar socioeconomic status that my family and I were in when we were homeless.”