A five-year-old boy, a tennis racquet and a dream. But at 14 years old, he decided to drop out of private school.
Paulo Siracusa grew up in São José dos Campos, Brazil. He dreamed of becoming a professional tennis player. He would travel across the Americas to face highly talented competition through the International Tennis Federation’s juniors tournaments.
Paulo enrolled in a night high school, allowing him to practice tennis throughout the day. However, he only began learning multiplication and division during his senior year - an illustration of the school’s lower academic standards. Paulo recognized that his dreams were unattainable and embarked on a different journey. He decided to apply to college, but struggled to overcome years of minimal academic growth.
DREAM CHASING— Paulo practiced eight hours a day --- from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. He enrolled in night school, which went from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. He would sleep, wake up, and repeat. His schedule was extremely demanding, but he describes his love for tennis as overpowering.
Paulo began traveling throughout South and North America at just 14 years old, competing in tournaments such as the Copa Milo in Santiago, Chile, the Inka Bowl in Lima, Peru, the XXVII Yucatan Cup in Merida, Mexico and the Metropolia Orange Bowl International Championship in Plantation, Florida. While sometimes accompanied by his coach and teammates, Paulo would oftentimes travel completely alone. “I had to figure everything out for myself,” Paulo explained. “Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese. All of these other countries spoke Spanish or English.”
Unlike his peers at that age, Paulo was often responsible for his own wellbeing, learning life skills such as cooking and washing laundry out of necessity. He remained “disciplined without supervision,” a process which he believes helped him grow through adolescence. The tournaments were discouraging at first. Hundreds of hours of practice and sacrifice went unrewarded, as Paulo faced many losses. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. But when I’m committed to something, I’m going to give 100 percent to reach my goals.”
His game improved over time. At the peak of his endeavours, Paulo would rank 570th in the International Tennis Federation (ITF), earning wins over Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) players.
Paulo Siracusa's Childhood Image
Through my tennis experiences around the world, I learned that sometimes things aren’t going to be fair. Life isn’t always fair...I learned from that, and that’s helped me to face challenges in my life. You may fail, but if you keep trying, you will always win.
SACRIFICE—His rigorous training routine meant that he was constantly away from family and friends. Success at a professional level requires absolute commitment.At 14 years old, he dropped out of private school. Although challenging, he believed this was an essential decision which allowed him to dedicate his time to practicing tennis.“My parents didn’t like me quitting school at first,” he said. “But they had confidence in me.” The night school Paulo enrolled in was academically substandard compared to the private school he previously attended. The school was mainly reserved for students looking to attain an education while working to support their families.
Although Paulo was successful, he would never become professional without ranking in the top 100 in the world. He then abandoned his dream. “I saw how difficult it was,” he explained. “My friends who continued to pursue professional tennis lived off of their parents budget. I always wanted financial stability, especially for my parents. That was my own decision.” Paulo decided to apply to college when he was 17, but years absent of academic growth created a tremendous obstacle.
FORGING A NEW PATH—Paulo’s international ranking gained him recognition from Marist Tennis’ head coach, Tim Smith. However, as with other non-native English speaking students, Paulo would have to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to gain admittance.
He took the test three times, passing with the minimum score of 80 on his last attempt. “My first semester was rough, especially with not fully understanding English,” Paulo explained. “I studied three or four times more than everyone else just to catch up with all the academic knowledge that I lost.”
Tim Smith has recruited numerous international players to join Marist’s team. Six athletes on his current ten-player roster are international students, so he understood the struggles that Paulo faced. “I’m really grateful because he didn’t make me focus solely on tennis,” said Paulo. Smith did not take Paulo to many tournaments his first semester, giving him time to focus on academics and adjust to college. “What I find really exciting is how hard he’s worked academically. He’s worked as hard as any kid on our team,” said Smith. “He was an ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) Academic All-American both years.”
“As a teammate, I don’t think you can find a better person. He’s the type of person that when we’re on away trips, he stays in and studies, or he’ll study when we’re at a tournament. Not a lot of players do that.”
“Usually when you’re a freshman you go out a lot and spend a lot of time with your friends,” he continued. “For me, it was basically all spent in the library.”Paulo attributes his experiences in tennis to helping him overcome his academic obstacles.
“If I did poorly on an exam, I learned from tennis to never give up. I would just keep going forward.”
Paulo grew up in São José dos Campos, Brazil. He dreamed of becoming a professional tennis player and would do anything necessary to achieve his goal. He dropped out of his private school, dedicating eight hours a day to practicing tennis and four hours at night to studies at a public night high school. He began traveling around North and South America to compete in junior tennis tournaments. He eventually abandoned his dream and decided to go to college, but his academic abilities were minimal. Tennis gave Paulo the opportunity to go to college, but it is his unwavering persistence which would make him successful. He entered college barely knowing a word of English but spent most of his days studying in the library. Since then, Paulo has made the Dean's List every semester and has earned himself an internship with J.P. Morgan. He understands that you may not always achieve your dreams, but working hard will always lead to something great.
SERVING ACES—Paulo noticed significant improvement in his academic and athletic capabilities sophomore year, accrediting his teammates. “I remember my first assignment freshman year was a one page paper. I was freaking out. In order to have one page, I made the font size 36,” he laughed. “I didn’t know proper formatting. When my teammates saw it, they were all laughing.”
“The upperclassmen international students on the team had been through similar experiences,” Paulo continued. “They helped me every single day, not just with tennis and school, but with life.” Paulo has been named to the Dean’s List every semester while majoring in finance, despite his initial struggles. The encouragement and advice Paulo received from his parents has been invaluable in his ability to conquer his obstacles.“My parents were never mad at me for not winning or not doing well in school,” he said, graciously. “All they asked is that I gave 100 percent in anything I did.”
DREAMING AGAIN—With the help of his sister Giovanna, Paulo earned an internship position with a former director of Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Brazil. Paulo entered Marist barely knowing a word of English, a struggle which many international students face when entering American colleges and universities. Now, with the help of his academic advisor and professor Dr. Joanne Gavin, he has attained an internship at J.P. Morgan. “Paulo is one of the most dedicated and hardworking students I know. He is willing to do the difficult work in order to succeed,” said Gavin. “One of Paulo's biggest challenge was his inability to speak in public. Between his nerves and English being his second language, he really struggled.”
“To his credit, he took a presentation course as an elective to overcome this limitation and he has improved greatly,” she continued. “It is wonderful to see how much he has grown in the last two and a half years.”
“Through my tennis experiences around the world, I learned that sometimes things aren’t going to be fair. Life isn’t always fair...I learned from that, and that’s helped me to face challenges in my life. You may fail, but if you keep trying, you’ll always win.”
“You may not necessarily achieve the goals you want,” Paulo continued. “But if you work hard and have a positive mindset, you may achieve something even greater.”