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Sun-Times readers: You sent gifted student to college!

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Updated: January 30, 2012 10:30AM

You did it.

Because of you, Byron Pickett is on his way to Berklee College of Music.

In less than two weeks, readers of this column raised $18,521 in cash and $2,000 in pledges to close the $14,000 gap between the $30,000 in scholarships, grants and financial aid Pickett received, and the tuition and housing costs needed for him to attend the prestigious school.

The additional funds will be posted to Pickett’s school account for the next school year.

On Wednesday morning, Pickett’s long-time mentor and I met with the 18-year-old and his mother to share the good news.

“I am just amazed that so many people who don’t know me would help me,” Byron Pickett said.

“I never imagined that this many people would care or that any of this would even happen.

“I thought that I would have to take out a loan for $15,000,” the 18-year-old said. “This means a whole lot to me, and it means even more because I know now that my mother doesn’t have to be worried about me trying to get to school. She can actually relax a little and have a little bit of peace.”

Pickett’s parents are divorced. When his mother, Debra Pickett, was unable to work because of injuries she suffered in an accident, the family, which includes three other teen boys, fell on hard times.

She was moved to tears as she thumbed through the hundreds of envelopes I received from readers.

“I don’t even know the words to express what I feel,” the mother said.

“I am extremely grateful for everything that the public has done to assist us and support our efforts.

“It was just a touching experience to know that so many people who have not seen our faces chose to bless us in this way,” she said.

“I always told my sons that if you do what you are supposed to do, when you can’t do any more, there will be somebody to help. I just never knew we would have to experience that firsthand. This is just so overwhelming.”

You did it.

Donations poured in from all over Chicago and the suburbs. Some of you even sent money to Pickett’s mother so that she could pay for some of the items Byron will need.

Nearly 250 of you sent checks in amounts ranging from $5 to $1,000.

“Byron has three other brothers who are very supportive and they are watching all of this. It is giving them the courage and the inspiration and the motivation to see what their older brother has done and to follow in his footsteps,” his mother said. “So they are making efforts now — not only in music, but in academics — to do better, to excel, and that is what any parent would want their child to do.”

Pickett’s mentor, Dwayne Bryant, CEO of Inner Vision and an internationally known motivational speaker, is working to get exposure for “Phenomenon,” the band that Byron Pickett put together to raise money for college. Besides obtaining donations for Pickett’s tuition, Bryant had another surprise for the family.

“How are you getting to Boston?” he asked the mother.

“We have no idea. I have a truck, but that is my last recourse. It is not a good truck. It might make it to Hammond,” she said.

Bryant presented the family with two airline tickets to Boston, and prepaid accommodations for four days at the Sheraton Hotel during orientation.

Mother and son will leave on Jan. 14. Byron Pickett will officially start his college career on Jan. 17.

“Many people were inspired to give in a time of recession and during the holiday season … to support the dream of a young man that they do not know,” Bryant said.

“Thanks to the readers, this [young man’s] life and the life of his family will never be the same. This allows me to go on and continue to believe in the beauty and the power of humanity.”

FedEx will ship your checks to the Bursar’s Office at Berklee Music College on Thursday. Any additional contributions received after Thursday will be sent in a separate envelope.

Thank you for your amazing generosity.

Together, we are sending a talented and deserving young man on to a better and brighter future.

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