Henry Pye, a GCE graduate from the class of 2013 talked to us about life after high school. In 2009, we met Henry in a basement of an old mansion on the Northside of Chicago. He was quiet, skeptical, and resistant. But over time, Henry would become the captain of the basketball team, the older brother of the underclassmen, the mentor of new students, and the beloved class clown. By the time he graduated in 2013, he was known as the poster child of GCE. This Spring, Henry graduated from UIC’s Urban Studies Program and is now in the early stages of starting a non-profit. We couldn’t be more proud to recognize such an outstanding citizen as a GCE graduate.


When did you graduate from GCE?
I graduated in 2013.

Why did you decide to come to GCE?
I had made my mind up on dropping out of high school after my Sophomore year but knew that this path would make it more difficult, at least longer, to become successful. Eric Davis sold me and my mom on the idea of the school with the help of his dog Stella (mostly Stella).

Building a handwashing station.

What was your GCE experience like? 
I was unbelievably lucky to have found GCE. During a very difficult time in my life, I stumbled upon a tiny high school in a basement and couldn’t wait to come back every single day. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I was given a family (metaphorically and in very real ways) from students and staff alike.

How did you grow at GCE? From this environment, I certainly came out of my shell, at least a little bit. My confidence grew from the support of everyone around me. Although growth should be a never-ending process, my time at GCE was the period in my life where I began to find who I was as an individual. Equally as important, I was given people around me to care about.

What did you do after graduating from GCE?
I accepted a last minute partial scholarship to Cornell College in Iowa.I was also slated to play for the basketball team which was a big deal for me. Cornell felt like a familiar environment, replicated in a cornfield. The cornfield element ended up being more of a challenge than I thought it’d be, although I did become familiar with a few farm-based horror films (which probably didn’t help). It was tough to leave Chicago, and maintaining scholarship level grades proved to be difficult during my brief time with the [basketball] team.

Collecting business cards at the Shark Tank auditions.

What did you do after leaving Cornell College? I knew I needed to come home, and with the guidance of a certain former GCE principal, I was led to the urban studies program at UIC. Many of the issues and topics addressed in this field, mainly pertaining to social justice, were cornerstones of UIC’s program.

Urban studies? Can you tell us more about this major and why you chose it? 
Urban studies (an offset of urban planning) addresses urban inequities in all of its forms, along with environmental issues and politics/policy in cities. Chicago was a perfect place to study this. I felt if any major was up my alley, it was this one. I studied world, American, and Chicago history, along with politics, environmental science, and urban planning. I didn’t (and still barely) knew what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that I cared deeply about social justice, equity for everyone, and the city of Chicago. I felt that arming myself with the skills and knowledge required for this program would give me a good springboard into whichever endeavor I chose.

How would you describe your experience at UIC?
UIC is a pretty bland looking state school still searching for funds from downstate (as many are). I ended up really enjoying it, and by my senior year realized how much I’d learned. Being as it’s such a big school, you can get lost (socially, educationally, etc) pretty easily, and I felt it during my transfer year. After that transition period, I more successfully navigated the environment and made what I could out of UIC. This boiled down to playing a lot of basketball (and occasionally dabbling in homework). There are opportunities to be had at UIC and I was fortunate enough to have experienced a few of them.

What are your plans now?
It feels odd to declare it, but I’m in the process of registering a not-for-profit business. The (nameless) organization will offer free basketball camps to underserved communities. Many details are currently being worked out, but I hope to change the lives of kids in this city and maybe even internationally. At the very least they should provide a few hours of reprieve for parents.

I also have a few plans regarding coaching and continuing to play basketball.

Presenting his business plan at Sandbox Industries.

How did GCE prepare you for life after college? Being able to write a professional email comes to mind. I also felt at least familiar with many processes of forming a business (like the business plan). The one I’d made for [the Economics] class many years ago is somewhat similar to the one I have now. Personally, it gave me a tangible look into the processes and players behind the issues we as a society face. The taste I was given at GCE was fed throughout my college years from classes and individual curiosity.

Did GCE’s curriculum, model, or philosophy affect the decisions you made after high school? If so, how? GCE’s altruism exemplified through its courses and it’s actions made me aware of the possible routes I could take to positively change the world, or my neighborhood. I care deeply about the issues that face many of our communities, local and international. GCE provided examples of these problems and solutions from the private sector, to grassroot cooperations in third world countries. I won’t pretend that each day I had a lightbulb go off, but the overall impact the school had on my life academically and socially is pretty obvious today.

On the way to IMAN Community Health Center.

What advice do you have for Seniors graduating from GCE this year?
Utilize some of the tools you learned here. This won’t manifest itself every day, but communicating with your professor through email may end up with you being invited to meet Jesse Jackson. If you have an idea for a business, why not try it? Many of my classmates have already gained experience in this field, and failure gives you more lessons than success does. Above all you have learned of some of the many ills that plague our communities, there’s no excuse to plead ignorant to them in the future.

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