Not many kids can say they inspired Gov. Deval Patrick, but Waltham High School student Stephanie Padilla did.
"I kind of just told him how his story inspired me," Padilla said of how her struggles as a young, poor student inspired Patrick, with whom she shares a similar personal story.
Their chance encounter, through written letters, started over the summer when, Jennifer Barsamian, one of Padilla’s teachers, started reading Patrick’s book, “A Reason To Believe: Lessons From An Improbable Life.” According to an Amazon.com summary of the book, Patrick tells of his struggles as a poor student in Chicago to his ascension to the governor’s office in 2006.
Patrick's message resounded with Barsamian, who said she later told her students of Patrick’s life story and suggested they write a letter to the governor.
Padilla decided to Patrick and told Waltham Patch she wrote of how she has struggled living without her father being part of her family and how her mother has worked long hours as a waitress to eek out a living.
"Sometimes, there was little food in the house, so we would have to eat a little bit [and] save some up [for the future]” Padilla said.
Letter in hand, Barsamian arranged to meet Patrick at an event in Dedham in October. Afterward, Barsamian spoke to Patrick for 10 minutes telling him of Padilla’s story, Barsamian said.
“He loved the story," Barsamian told Waltham of how Patrick enjoyed hearing of Padilla.
Patrick took the letter and instead of handing it off to a staffer, he stuffed it in his pocket, Barsamian said. Patrick also signed a copy of his book for Stephanie, which Barsamian later gave to her student, she said.
Knowing Patrick is busy, Padilla said she didn’t expect a response from Patrick, but days later she received a handwritten, personal note from Patrick.
“Dear Stephanie, Thank you for your note. You are an inspiration for me and I know you will achieve great things. I have high hopes for you,” Patrick wrote.
If Padilla’s hopes for herself are any indication, she certainly has a bright future. Padilla, who lives in Waltham with two other siblings, said she wants to be the first person in her family to graduate college and become a forensic psychologist. She wants to attend Lasell College in Newton.
"They,” Padilla said of her parents, “would just be proud of me if I finished school and didn’t drop and found myself a job.”