Brandon Diaz ’12 finds success in finance
It’s just a few miles from where Brandon Diaz ’12 grew up in lower Manhattan to where he now works, at the Madison Avenue headquarters of the global financial services firm Jefferies Group. But Brandon says he could not have made the journey without passing through Williston. “It was probably one of the biggest opportunities of my life,” he says of the school and the financial aid package that allowed him to attend. “I like to think of it as a launchpad for me as a person, finding my identity, but also pointing me to my career and where I am today.”
Raised in Battery Park City by two working parents (his mother is a Head Start family services worker, his father was in telecommunications), Brandon was a versatile athlete and active community member at Nativity Mission Center, a small Jesuit-run middle school for low-income families on the Lower East Side. One day a boarding school representative gave a talk to the students, and Brandon was intrigued. He had never heard of boarding schools but told his parents he’d like to explore that option. “We looked at tuition, and I was like, ‘Oh, mom, it’s only $40,000 a year,’” he recalls. “And she was like, ‘Well, that’s more than I make in a year.’”
Fortunately, Brandon was active with The Boys Club of New York, which offered programs that introduce inner-city students to independent schools around New England and assist with the financial aid process. After meeting with a Williston representative and touring the school, Brandon decided to apply. He was one of just a handful from his middle school to be accepted at a boarding school—and the only one from his class to graduate from one.
Brandon’s drive to succeed was fueled in part by the economic turmoil of the times—he arrived at Williston in 2008, when the country was in the midst of the Great Recession—but also by how he saw economic issues playing out on campus. “I wasn’t really aware of what rich was when I was that age, but I knew what poor was,” he says. “And I knew that some people weren’t in the same position that I was in. Trying to come to grips with that, and to understand what was going on in the world and in the market, those things really fueled my passion.”
His parents had long encouraged his ambition, and he found additional support in the Williston community. “My advisors and teachers were always trying to get me to strive to do my very best,” he recalls. “And because of that, and knowing that I had a unique opportunity, it lit a fire under me to make the best of it, from middle school to high school, and beyond.”
After graduation, Brandon attended Adelphi University for a semester. Rather than incur additional loan debt, he transferred to the more affordable Hunter College, where he majored in economics. His junior year he interned at currency broker FXCM, then after earning his degree he was hired to a back-office position at Jefferies. Five years and several promotions later, he now holds what he considers his dream job, trading and selling bonds to hedge funds, investment banks, asset managers, and others. “It’s a lot of work,” he acknowledges, “but it’s very fulfilling.”
Along the way, he has kept his connection to Williston, serving on the Head’s Visiting Council, supporting the school financially, and taking part in alumni networking groups. He sees Williston, and the financial aid program that broadens access to the school, as a vital link in helping other low-income students follow his path to success. “I don’t believe talent or ability discriminates by socioeconomic class,” he explains. “So allowing people who have ability or talent to gain these prestigious transformational opportunities, it’s really just an investment—in the student, and the school, and the community itself. It can be a big investment, but I think it pays off. People who might not have had certain opportunities are now able to reach them, because of a wonderful launchpad like Williston.”