The Washington Post

Lester Mason: Forging his own path

On the day the scholarships were announced at Seat Pleasant, Lester Mason, a burly fifth-grader, wondered why the adults were screaming. Was that his mother crying?

The scholarship, his parents kept reminding him, meant he had to keep up with his homework and pay attention to his teachers.

“You understand that this is a big deal?” Lester Mason’s mother asked him. “You need to settle down and get into your books.”

In their household, the plan was that Lester would become the first Mason to attend college. He would become Lester Mason, Esquire.

But after graduating from Northwestern High School in 1995, Lester didn’t last a semester at the University of Maryland. He felt overwhelmed by the work, the freedom, the number of students — everything. He wanted someone to tell him what to do, down to the smallest detail. But there was no one. He foundered.

Tracy Proctor, the mentor to the Seat Pleasant 59, suggested that Lester try Prince George’s Community College. Same results.

Lester brought his transcript to show his parents how poorly he had done. He told them he would not be the first Mason to go to college. He would not become a lawyer.

“You can do it,” his mother said. “I know you can do it.”

“No, I cannot,” he replied. “And I don’t want to.”

Instead Lester, who is married and has a child, learned how to repair elevators. Today, his business is thriving, he says. Not long ago, he ran into Proctor at a 7-11 during a coffee run. Lester hugged his old mentor and later called Proctor. He wanted advice on how to expand his business.

Paul Schwartzman specializes in political profiles and narratives about life, death and everything in between.

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