This first-generation student navigated hardship to gain a mentor and earn his degree.
Diners of Aspen Creek Grill in Lubbock can't miss Allen Bruce Taylor Jr.
Those who know him best call him a “big personality.” He is not only tall, but friendly and personable as he serves food and beverages.
It helps that he genuinely loves his role. In more ways than one, the hospitality industry feels like home to him.
“When I was younger, we were a less fortunate family,” Taylor said. “We had a lot of adversity to face, like sleeping in our car because we were homeless for quite some time. Or sleeping at the hotel my dad worked at because we could get a bed, which was really nice.”
By the time Taylor was 11, his parents were separated and his dad had full custody. While his dad worked a maintenance job at a hotel in Dallas, the court costs he faced caused financial strain.
“Nobody else really helped us,” Taylor said. “It was just me and him.”
As soon as Taylor turned 16, he began to help by working as a busser. He picked up shifts at the restaurant as often as possible so they could afford an apartment by the end of his junior year.
Through his strong work ethic, Taylor was able to develop a passion and envision a brighter future.
“I enjoy making people happy through the service industry,” Taylor said. “It's nice to see smiles on people's faces, so that's what I pursued in life.”
Taylor was not sure his career path included higher education until the end of his senior year of high school. He was apprehensive to become a first-generation college student until he heard about Texas Tech University's Red Raider Guarantee.
This program ensures tuition and mandatory fees (up to 30 credit hours per year) for in-state, first year and transfer students with an associate degree, who have demonstrated the necessary financial need and will be enrolled full time.
“Being a first-generation student is not very normal in this day and age,” Taylor said. “Texas Tech wants to make sure that kids like us have an opportunity to get a good education.”
Support from the Red Raider Guarantee gave Taylor the confidence he needed to move forward. He would maintain a fulltime job, receive some aid from his dad, and put himself through college.
“Without the Red Raider Guarantee, I was just going to jump straight into the workforce at 18,” Taylor said. “I was very excited when I found out I could go to Texas Tech.”
While some undergraduates struggle to declare a major, this was not the case for Taylor. He chose Restaurant, Hotel & Institutional Management (RHIM) because he already knew he found joy from working in the hospitality industry.
“We had a conversation about being a first-year student in college and thinking you are Superman, but realizing you have to be a real adult,” Taylor said. “You have to take care of yourself because nobody else is going to take care of you like you are.”
Adams could recognize Taylor's talents and skills right away.
“He represents himself very well,” Adams said. “He's not an arrogant young man, but he's very confident in who he is. And I think that's a good thing. You need that when you're in hospitality.”
Sure enough, Taylor began to excel on campus. He was on the president's honor list his first and second year, which is earned by full-time undergraduate students who have a grade point average of 4.0 during a semester. He earned another president's award for completing more than 500 volunteer hours.
“It's cool because I get to talk to other first-generation students to help them find a way to help themselves in school, like sharing which scholarships to apply for and how to apply,” he said.
As with the hospitality industry, Texas Tech became more than just a place to learn for Taylor.
“I call this place home because of how much joy it's brought me, how much fun it's been and how many people I've met,” he said. “I've met some people who are going to be in my wedding someday because I really do value them.”
The College of Human Sciences values him in return as it chose to highlight his success in its newsletter. All the while, he worked several different hospitality jobs at Sam's Place West, 4ORE! Golf and Restaurant and the Overton Hotel.
“I'm not going say it's been an easy step,” Taylor said. “But as long as you keep your head down, you stay working, you are always in the mood to be better and you're not content with where you are, that's a very good way to be.”
Taylor embraced that mindset the second semester of his first year, after he was missing a few assignments for Adams' class. That led to a meeting between the two.
“I was being careless,” Taylor said. “So he sat me down to talk; not like a coworker or a friend, but a man.”
That moment is not only engraved in Taylor's brain, but Adams' as well. He challenged Taylor to change so he could reach his full potential, which Adams believes is substantial.
In Taylor's words, right after that pep talk he “hopped on the Adams train.” Together, Taylor had the accountability partner he needed to trailblaze toward his degree.
“He's been a great mentor to me, no matter the situation, the time of day or if he has something going on,” Taylor said. “He's always there for me and shines light on the direction I need to go because he's done it for years and has been there before.”
Adams enjoys mentoring Taylor for the simple fact that he listens – a trait he said not all students have.
“As the old saying goes, ‘You're gonna learn easier, you're gonna learn harder, but you're gonna learn,'” Adams said.
Taylor has learned many lessons by accepting direction. He may not always follow exactly what Adams says, but he applies the advice in ways he can improve himself.
And the person he has become is one whom several companies are interested in hiring after his May graduation.
“One of the most difficult decisions he's going to have to make is deciding what he wants to do career-wise,” Adams said. “But honestly, that's a great problem to have. I tell every student that gets ready to graduate, ‘You want that kind of problem to deal with.'”
Taylor hoped to accept a general management position in the hospitality field and work his way up, but had no concrete answer of which company would extend that opportunity.
That changed on April 30, when he received an offer to join the Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits sales team. He starts this position – back in Dallas – on July 17.
“I am super excited that I will be able to go back to my original home,” he said. “I will go into accounts Monday through Friday and make sure that everything they sell is in stock and will be providing excellent service so that our accounts can operate.”
There is just one more step left before Taylor jumpstarts his career. Graduation: a day he once never dreamed of.
He is still unsure what he will say in the moment, but he knows where he will look. He will scan the audience during the ceremony for a man who inspired him in the first place: the maintenance worker who helped others from behind the scenes to support his son.
“I couldn't be here without him,” Taylor said. “I know he's so proud of me and I'm very appreciative of that. That's one thing that keeps me going, because I want to take care of my family. I want to take care of my dad.”
No matter where else Taylor chooses to go after his graduation, Adams hopes he will steer back to the Texas Tech campus occasionally to show students what is possible when they push through difficult paths to reach a better future.
“He's got a good compass,” Adams said. “Bruce is an example of what college can do for people in terms of transforming them from kids into productive members of society.
How far he goes is up to him.”