Greg Walton: An inspirational story of success

Danielle Randall
April 11, 2017

“Giving back is very important to me,” MIT staff member Greg Walton says. “I’ve had so many people invest their time and energy into helping me and so many others, so for me, I feel it would be an injustice not to do so.” Here, Walton celebrates with his family after receiving a 2017 MIT Excellence Award. Photo: Melanie Gonick/MIT

This article was originally featured on the MIT News Page.

When the need for information technology (IT) service arises, it can be the catalyst for a stressful moment — the user is locked out of their computer, a program isn’t working properly, a file has disappeared, a software update is proving to be more of a headache than an improvement. But ask anyone in the MIT departments of Chemistry and Physics, or the MIT News Office — the Institute divisions that are fortunate enough to have Greg Walton as their IT service provider and consumer support engineer — and they’ll attest to the fact that not only is Walton the best of the best, but whatever the issue is, he will see it through until all involved are completely satisfied with the outcome.

“Greg has been a great help to the Department of Chemistry,” says the department chair and Robert R. Taylor Professor Tim Jamison. “He’s solved a number of IT problems for us, and he always does so with energy, enthusiasm, and optimism.”

Never one to shy away from a problem, Walton arrives on the scene like a comic book superhero, with a seemingly endless amount of positive energy that transforms a technical frustration into an enjoyable interaction, regardless of how many directions he’s being pulled into, or how many other IT fires he’s already put out that day. Walton is persistent, pleasant, and eager to solve the challenges that arise. He employs these attributes on a daily basis in his profession, but the qualities that make him a stellar Institute employee extend far beyond the campus limits.

Part of what makes Walton so adept at helping others is the fact that he is ingrained with an unparalleled amount of self-motivation. After spending his early years in foster care, Walton moved to Boston when he was six years old. At first, he lived with his great-grandmother, and later on a great-aunt, but mostly, he was left to fend for himself. While many children might, understandably, flounder under such unsupervised circumstances, Walton excelled academically and athletically at Brighton High School. He went on to become the first person in his family to graduate from high school, and enrolled at Salem State College.

While it might seem that at this point, the challenging years were behind him, Walton faced further obstacles in his university years, and, lacking the traditional safety net of parents, family members, and mentors, he fell into the wrong crowd of people, left school, and found himself in the exact situation he had worked so hard as a child to avoid — penniless and facing a life on the streets. Rock bottom arrived when Walton was 19 in the form of an arrest for carrying an unregistered firearm. After spending his 21st birthday in prison, he grew more determined than ever to get himself back on track toward the life he’d been so driven to achieve.

After a post-prison stint working at Stop and Shop for $6.75 an hour, Walton seized the chance to enroll in Year Up, a program whose mission is to close the "opportunity divide" by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. Walton remains an active ambassador and advocate for the organization, and in 2011 he became the first Year Up alum to be elected to their national board.

Having laid the groundwork for a career in IT with Year Up, Walton graduated as the leader of his class, but was met with yet another obstacle: His criminal record limited him to low-ceilinged contract jobs for $10.00 an hour. But in June of 2007, armed with gleaming recommendations, Walton was hired as a temp at MIT, where he originally staffed a reception desk. He eventually worked his way up to where he is today — an invaluable asset to three departments.

For the last near-decade, this has been Walton’s legacy, both within MIT and beyond. “I do feel blessed to work at a place like MIT that supports me in doing this,” he says. “I’ve had the ability to tour the country sharing my story to help others in hopes some people may be inspired, as well as hoping employers may look at young adults with tough backgrounds differently.”

In addition to Year Up, he is involved with a number of organizations committed to helping to young adults overcome their troubled pasts. He is a member of the Boston Public Schools’ Committee to dismantle the “School to Prison Pipeline,” and sits on the advisory board of the Boston Re-entry Initiative (BRI), a program dedicated to reducing recidivism — the rate at which former inmates return to prison — which Walton credits as a huge benefit to him during his time in prison. He also participated in a roundtable discussion with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, sharing his experience with BRI.

These efforts have not not gone unnoticed: Walton was recently highlighted by CNBC as part of their "My Success Story" series, and was featured in an Atlantic article entitled, "How to Bet Big on the American Dream." His motivation for sharing his story is simple: He wants his experience to help young adults with a similarly troubled past. His goal is to inspire them to stay determined, to not succumb to discouragement, and to seize opportunities as he did. “At the end of the day,” Greg states, “My family is the most important thing to me, and I am just striving to be the best husband, father, and leader for them I can be.”

This desire to have a positive impact on people’s lives extends seamlessly into his work at MIT, where this year, out of nearly 300 Information Systems and Technology employees, the married father of two was honored at the MIT Excellence Awards with an award in the category of Serving the Client. “Giving back is very important to me,” Walton says. “I’ve had so many people invest their time and energy into helping me and so many others, so for me, I feel it would be an injustice not to do so.”

Walton’s success at the Institute, and the value he brings to the departments in his care, are outstanding feats in their own right. But it is the obstacles over which he has triumphed along the way that make his story a genuine inspiration.