“That class was the beginning of a new me and of me wanting to become better,” George said. “I realized that I can take advantage of so many opportunities that people decide not to take.”
In his freshman and sophomore years of high school, George Altawil (now 18) primarily focused on having fun, playing sports, and socializing with friends. He didn’t try to plan for his future and wasn’t concerned about investing in opportunities to better himself. Mostly, he took life day by day.
“I was easily able to learn in all my classes, but I had no motivation and became lazy,” George said.
His attitude about education drastically changed at the end of
his sophomore year when he decided to apply for the middle college program at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., which allows juniors and seniors
to fulfill their high school requirements by taking community college classes. He was inspired by his older sister, who also participated in the middle college program and graduated high school with two associate degrees, one in biology and one in liberal arts.
“I didn't know that middle college was truly going to change me and I'm glad it did,” George said. “As soon as I joined West Valley, I was really about the grinding mindset. I wanted to complete as many college classes as I could; I wanted to get a really high GPA. I wanted to do a lot of things simultaneously.”
Although George was the football quarterback and had an active social life, he decided to focus more on academics. He continued playing football, but gave up a lot of playing time during games and angered the coach because he would often be late to practices due to middle college classes. Additionally, he lost touch with some casual friends. Yet, he never regretted these sacrifices.
“I'm in a perfectly supportive environment with my close friends and that's way better than having a popular group of friends that just hate each other,” he said.
In addition to continuing to play football and run track & field at his high school, George maximized the number of units he could take every semester (11 college units plus 2 middle college classes), worked at The Bay Club in Los Gatos, and made time to hang out and pursue hobbies like spikeball and swimming.
“I just kept wanting to learn and adapt and become more of an adult,” George said.
One class in particular — Econ 1A, Macroeconomics — completely altered George’s mindset. When he enrolled in it during the fall semester of his senior year, he thought economics mostly revolved around the stock market. But soon, he realized that it was much more than just that.
“That class was the beginning of a new me and me wanting to become better,” George said. “I realized that I can take advantage of so many opportunities that people decide not to take.”
The lesson about the power of compounding interest completely mindshocked George: he knew that the advice he received (to take advantage of early investing) would change his life.
During his first two years of high school, George was a heavy spender and would throw away any money he received from parents, friends, or side gigs on food and impulsive purchases like video games and shoes he would never wear. But the evening after the lesson on compounding, George set up multiple investing accounts on platforms such as Robinhood and Acorns and began pouring over economic news, constantly checking Yahoo Finance, the Wall Street Journal and Robinhood News. As soon as he turned 18, he started buying stocks with any extra money he had.
“Compound interest taught me that the more time I waste, the more potential money I can achieve goes to waste,” George said. “It also taught me the reverse role between time and money: money can be gained back, time can’t.”
At first, George feared the inherent volatility of the stock market. He worried that he wasn’t experienced enough to make wise decisions and was simply gambling away his money.
But with the support of the economics professor and other mentors, George became more bold in his approach to new endeavors like investing and saving. Although he still fears taking risks (e.g. financial ones), he views uncertainty as a potential avenue for success, as long as individuals remain responsible with their choices.
“I learned that I can simultaneously maximize profits off of assets that have the least amount of volatility,” George said. “Dedicated research, with confidence in the asset you believe in, can go a long way for not only investors but also entrepreneurs”
On another day, the professor showcased statistics comparing the lifestyles and wages in different countries around the world, detailing the perspective of scarcity and the extensive differences in life quality. Before that class, George had never considered how his minimum wage position as a Front Desk Associate at the Bay Club was paying more than most grueling, labor-intensive jobs in many developing nations.
He became more mindful of the advantages he received growing up in the Silicon Valley and more conscientious about not wasting money.
If he hadn’t done middle college, George said that he likely wouldn’t have been as motivated as if he stayed in high school, for his untraditional education path awarded him with countless opportunities and connections. He realized he can always learn from people who are better than him and is now always open to advice.
“I think highly of myself, but I've definitely humbled down,” George said. “I want to succeed to help me and to help other people and before I just wanted to do it for myself.”
Currently, he works at Copper Banking, a startup banking platform for teens, while at the same time, taking classes at San Jose State University and managing his website, georgealtawil.com. He is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree of Science in Economics in two years, at the age of 20. In the next 5-10 years, he hopes to invest in multiple businesses and initiate at least one startup.
“Right now I'm just getting as many opportunities as possible,” George said. “I'm trying to maximize and take advantage of what I can right now. I want to make sure I become a really good entrepreneur in the future.”