FERGUSON, Missouri — Michael Brown never made it to his first day of college. He never wore his student ID badge through the doors of the tech school here, never saw the syllabus outlining his first class. He had dreams of mastering a trade, becoming an electrician to heat and cool spaces. Maybe one day he’d even open up his own business.
Brown was just two days away from his first class at Vatterott College when he was shot dead by a police officer in the middle of the street. As the community roils over Brown’s death and his family mourns, students at the tech school Brown was supposed to attend are left wondering: Who could Mike Brown have been?
“He was planning on making a better future for himself,” said Eugene Bates, a Vatterott student. “He could have been anything he wanted to be.”
On Monday, Brown was supposed to join the roughly 1,000 other students who attended the Vatterott campus located in a newly-built 96,000-square-foot facility just miles away from where he was shot and killed on Aug. 9.
Though he never made it to his first day of class, whispers and stories in the hallways of the school and outside during cigarette breaks near the bus stop make the 18-year-old feel present as students swap theories about what led veteran Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to open fire on him.
“This man can’t even rest in peace because there’s so much commotion going on,” said Chadwich Ellis, a student at Vatterott’s Ex’treme Institute branch in downtown St. Louis.
“The only thing that people are looking for is justice,” said Aaron Anderson, another Ex’treme Institute student. “That’s it.”
In a town where nearly half of African-American men younger than 24 are unemployed, Brown made it through the hurdles of growing up, but not without struggle. He fought hard to graduate from high school and had spent the summer working to complete his academic credits. He only just received his diploma at the start of this month.
“There aren’t too many black men who graduate,” said Alkhalid Welch, 39, who explained he was a friend of the slain teen’s father, Michael Brown Sr. “I watched his daddy walk him to and from school all his life. We stayed on our younger generation. Kids go to school.”
Welch said that, unlike young Michael Brown, he was getting a late start on his education after leading a rough life during his own youth —an experience shared by a number of other Vatterott students, many of whom come from the surrounding St. Louis area. The tech school is seen as a chance to beat the cycle of poverty and unemployment plaguing the black community. Welch and Brown were to attend Vatterott together this fall, when the older man could have taken the teenager under his wing.
“We never got a chance to even meet him,” said Stan Stokes, a classmate of Welch’s studying automotive repair at Vatterott. “That’s what makes it so sad.”
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, broke down in tears during interviews with the media at the prospect that she would not see her firstborn child start college after fighting so hard to make it through high school.
“He worked hard to get through high school,” his mother said. “And we were so proud of him. And when he started his journey on to college, we were even more proud of him.”
“Never did we think we’d be planning a funeral,” she added through tears. “We were waiting on his first day of school.”