A source of light and humility: Pemberton embodies “the beacon effect”



At age 3, Steve Pemberton was taken from his alcoholic mother and placed in the foster care system. He never saw her again. Instead, Pemberton went through numerous foster homes and eventually lived with a family who abused him mentally and physically for 13 years. Pemberton said he learned many lessons from his experience in the foster care system, which he describes in his novel A chance in the world: an orphan boy, a mysterious past and how he found a place called home.

“You never want your fate and/or fate to rest in someone else’s hands like this,” said Pemberton, BC ’89.

Today, he is the HR director of Dublin-based software company Workhuman, a best-selling author, sought-after speaker, youth advocate, husband and father of three.

Pemberton, who grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, discovered Boston College in seventh grade when his guidance counselor handed him a brochure and suggested he review it. Pemberton said his response was simply, “What is college?”

After constantly adjusting to different home environments, he had no idea what life after high school might be like. After a recommendation from a friend, Pemberton discovered the To the top program, which he says helped him greatly on his journey to Chestnut Hill. Upward Bound is a nationwide program run by the United States Department of Education to help prepare high school students from low-income families for college.

When Pemberton first arrived in British Columbia, the transition was difficult, he said. While his classmates were thrilled to be alone and away from home, Pemberton struggled to understand this newfound freedom, as he didn’t feel like he was at home.

“I really had a hard time fitting in,” he said. “I was still trying to find a home somehow because I had been in the foster care system.”

Pemberton said he finally managed to find his home in unlikely places. He said the education he received and the opportunities he enjoyed while in British Columbia helped him find his calling. One of the places he found a home was the housekeeping crew he worked with during the summer after freshman year.

“I learned so much from them: the importance of getting the job done right and thorough, being on time and doing what you say you’re going to do,” Pemberton said. “You know, they really taught me how to be a professional without knowing it.”

Pemberton found other places and groups of people who also contributed to his understanding of home and community. He led athletics, participated in the Black Student Forum, and helped found the Talented Tenth at BC, a supportive learning environment created by African-American male students in the 1980s.

Today his son, Quinn Pemberton, CSOM ’23, is also an athlete in BC and plays for the men’s basketball team. After attending Morehouse College for a year, a small HBCU in Atlanta, Quinn transferred to British Columbia in 2020 and joined the team. Pemberton visits him almost every two weeks and attends his son’s games to support him, something he has done since Quinn was a child.

“It’s so fun to see Quinn enjoying Boston College the same way I do,” Pemberton said. “He’s having the best time of his life.”

Growing up, Quinn said her father always cared about those around him, even those he didn’t know. He remembers the mornings his father would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to practice, look at the worker’s name tag, and thank him, making sure to use his name in his words of gratitude. Quinn says this is just one example of how her dad treats everyone equally and with dignity.

The lessons of fairness and justice are those that Pemberton attributes to the upbringing he received in British Columbia. Although he was unfamiliar with the Jesuit tradition before arriving on the heights, Pemberton said he quickly grasped its ideals and had already found them in his own life.

As a young African-American man not raised in the Catholic tradition and who grew up in the foster care system, Pemberton said the Jesuits allowed him to find common ground with those around him.

“I saw those connections, and I still see those connections, that you can find those common threads of humanity that are anchored around faith and service,” Pemberton said.

Pemberton said the importance of taking action was a lesson from the Jesuits that he applied to his own life. Looking back on his childhood, he said this principle showed him that he should support future generations, rather than dwelling on what he had lost during his childhood.

“As a result, I could never feel sorry for myself, because it wasn’t really about what I had lost but rather what I had a responsibility to give,” he said. he declares.

Prior to his role at Workhuman, Pemberton also worked at the BC Office of Undergraduate Admissions for 10 years.

During her time working for admissions, Pemberton worked with now-Associate Vice President of University Communications Jack Dunn who, like Quinn, said he admired Pemberton’s commitment to connecting with people.

In 2017, Pemberton began working at Worker as Director of Human Experience. In this role, he works alongside other human resources managers to facilitate a comfortable work environment, according to the Workhuman website.

“He’s such a successful businessman and author and such a wonderfully devoted husband and father,” Dunn said. “And yet he finds time every day to connect with people who want to share their own story and let him know how his example gave them hope in dark times.”

A sense of responsibility to share her story in the hope that it would help others led Pemberton to write her first book, A chance in the worldwhich he published in 2012. More recently, Pemberton published The flagship effect: How ordinary people can have an extraordinary impact on the world in September 2021.

While writing both books and working full time, Pemberton always prioritized attending sporting events for her three children, arranging time to write the books around her children’s schedules.

A chance in the world is a memoir recounting the many ordeals Pemberton suffered throughout his adolescence. The inspiration for this book came from a conversation he had with his son, Quinn, when he was 6 years old. Quinn asked her dad, “Did you have a daddy?”

This question took Pemberton by surprise, he said, because it had not occurred to him that the question was on the minds of his children.

This revelation led Pemberton to write the story of his time in the foster care system. It was a chance for Pemberton to share that side of himself with his children, he said.

“It’s not just my story, it’s theirs too,” Pemberton said. “This story is part of it.”

Pemberton said he not only received a positive reaction from his family, but also from readers inspired by his story.

“I was writing a family story, and then all of a sudden I started hearing from people all over the country, then all over the world,” Pemberton said. “I think that’s when I realized… [is] When you share your story or parts of your story, it really invites others to share their stories with you. And you realize these threads, these common connections that we all have, or universal stories.

Awareness of these common threads that exist throughout society, which Pemberton says he came to after his introduction to Jesuit ideals, led him to write his second book, The lighthouse effect. In this book, Pemberton shares inspiring stories of people in her life who served as a beacon – or guiding light – and urges the reader to become beacons themselves.

“The beacon effect is the idea that any of us, on any given day, at any given time, can find a beacon for ourselves and be one for someone else,” said said Pemberton. “And that could be a mentor or a guide, holding a door open for someone and finding those opportunities to be a beacon. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of leading.”

Pemberton served as summons and beginning speaker for the BC class of 2020. During graduation, he discussed his most recent book, The lighthouse effect. He linked his book’s message to the Class of 2020, explaining how one can be a beacon to others.

“The close connection he made to our Class of 2020 as a freshman call-up and then commencement speaker was profound,” Dunn said. “They love and admire him, and he feels the same way about them.”

Pemberton’s character is BC’s ideal student, Dunn said.

“To me, he serves as an ideal role model of the person we hope our students will become,” Dunn said. “Steve is humble, caring, loyal, dedicated and selfless. He is a leader and an inspiration. I am honored to call him my friend.

Graphic presented by Annie Corrigan / Editor-in-Chief

Photos courtesy of Steve Pemberton and stevepemberton.io

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