I had an amazing day yesterday! The kind of day where you know you are blessed to do the work you do. Yesterday, I met 47 incredible high school seniors who were going to be first-generation college students. They had several things in common:
- they were leaders – in their schools, communities, and workplace;
- they knew how to ask for help and use all the resources they could to prepare for college;
- they all took time out of their schedules to help other people.
- they were all students who would be the first in their family to attend college,
- and they were all eligible for the Pell grant (a Federal grant for low-income students).
On Thursday night, I could hardly sleep! We spend months getting the word out about the Torch Scholars Program, then months reading all the nominations and applications. The anticipation builds…. and then interview day arrives! The students who were once words on paper become real – we get to talk with them, learn more about them, hear their stories, and meet at least one of their supporters.
For some students, it was their first time ever on a plane. For some, it was the first time they had set foot in Boston. For others, their first visit to a college campus. I helped make that happen for these students, and that’s exciting to me.
As I wandered around the room for the day, answering questions, checking in to see how people were doing (I was the host after all!), I kept hearing from the students’ supporters how much the students were enjoying their interviews. Now I knew some of them would be excited about missing Friday classes for an adventure to Boston, but enjoying interviews – wow!
Here’s why I think they were enjoying their day, even though it was a competition where only 10 candidates would actually receive the scholarship.
They were talking to each other. They weren’t texting on their phones or sitting quietly by themselves – they were talking with other candidates from around the country, listening to each other and sharing their own stories. And they were asking the current Torch Scholars a lot of questions as well. After all, who can share more about the program than the students who are part of it!
They had permission to be themselves and share their true stories. Torch Scholars (and the candidates) have all experienced and overcome adversity in their lives. In their interviews and with each other, they did not have to come across as perfect, with everything in order and with all the answers. The people who interviewed them and in the room with them all day could understand and relate to them. A room full of more than 100 people who thought you and your story were incredible enough to get you a full scholarship to a private college? That has to be encouraging!
They brought someone who supported them to the interview day. Imagine walking in alone into a group where there are scholarship staff, college students, and other candidates you don’t know, and on top of that you are competing for a huge scholarship. Then imagine the same situation with a family member, trusted teacher, mentor, or friend. The second picture is much better! We require each student to bring a support figure with them. We pay for them to fly, or drive, or bus to campus with the student. If they are coming from far away, we get them hotel rooms for the night before the event. Each student has a supporter who can experience the day with the student and help them relax enough to be as genuine as possible.
I am blessed to have met such incredible students. Now the very difficult job of selecting just 10 of them will happen. My staff and I will get input from the selection committee, but that doesn’t make it any easier after you’ve met everyone. This group of 47 high school students did an excellent job of making the final selection very, very hard.
But what I know from yesterday is that wherever these students choose to go to college (and I expect they will all get into and attend college), that college will be very lucky to have them there! These students are going places!
Thanks for reading! Make it a great day!