College-Bound Seniors Celebrate Dreams, Hard Work, and 100% Acceptance Rate

By: Eugene K. Chow

Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn — Brianna strode across the stage as the auditorium erupted in cheers.

After giving a heartfelt speech, she triumphantly brandished a college pennant and shouted, “I will take the first step towards my purpose in the fall of 2016, 874 miles away, in Atlanta, Georgia, at Emory University!”

A thousand of her fellow students, parents, and teachers roared in deafening approval.

“I’m not going to college to simply find a job,” she said. “I’m going to college to advance myself in finding my purpose. I have found a plan to achieve my purpose.”

As part of Achievement First Brooklyn High School’s annual Signing Day, stirring scenes like these were repeated throughout the afternoon until every graduating senior attending college officially announced where they would be heading in the fall.

For the fourth year in a row, every senior earned admission to college, continuing the school’s 100% acceptance rate. In total, the class of 2016 secured over 350 acceptances at more than 75 colleges including Stanford, Wesleyan, Howard, Hunter, and Barnard.

Perhaps more indicative of the graduating class’ hard work is the fact that every senior took at least two AP classes and three-quarters of the class took three.

In many ways, Signing Day is more meaningful than graduation for Achievement First’s seniors. It is a cathartic release for four years of struggle, sacrifice, and hard work, combining the raucous energy of a college sports draft, where athletes announce their chosen teams, with the intimacy and emotion of a confession.

The entire high school is present along with faculty, parents, and community members to celebrate hard work and to reinforce the importance of not just attending college, but also building a successful future.

For many of Achievement First’s seniors the path to Signing Day has not been easy, and a number of the 99 college-bound students took to the podium to share their moving journeys.

Rasheon grew up without a father in a house engulfed in turmoil. With so much instability at home, his grades suffered and he lost motivation.

But rather than becoming a statistic, he found the strength within himself to turn his life around.

“I didn’t want to be another source of pain for my mother,” he told a rapt audience. “I wanted to be the man in her life. The man my father never was.”

So Rasheon focused on his academics, dramatically improved his GPA, and is now headed to State University of New York at Oneonta.

With the help of Robin Hood, powerful stories like Rasheon’s play out every day at Achievement First Brooklyn High School.

Jesse, the son of an Ecuadorian immigrant, spoke of his father’s uphill climb and the inspiration he drew from it.

“My father struggled to survive in the supposed ‘Land of Opportunity,’ as he slept on a cold floor in Jackson Heights,” he recounted. “He lived in a community where influences encouraged him to be less than he was capable of, but he knew he could do more.”

Jesse’s father was determined to succeed and provide his family with opportunities, so he learned English and earned a college degree.

“I want to move forward with my dream to one day become a strong, Latino man like my father. So pa y ma, esto es para ustedes — y yo [So mom and dad, this is for you — and myself],” Jesse said. “I’ll keep thriving in the fall of 2016 at Lafayette College.”

In contrast, Kayla offered advice to her younger classmates, sharing the valuable lessons she had learned after experiencing the disappointment of not getting into her dream school.

“I can say there is no pain like knowing you’ve let yourself down. Don’t be like me,” she said. “Shortcuts and excuses became my backstabbing best friends while mediocrity swindled me with his smooth suggestions of TV over studying. Take the reins on your life and never let go, not even at the end of the ride because the end is never the end.”

Kayla may not have gotten into her dream school, but she is more than excited to find new hopes and dreams as she continues her journey at Bowdoin College.

In a moving speech, the captain of the football team, Ansmane, stunned the crowd with his struggle to find meaning after his father’s death.

“I went to school for my dad because he always dreamed of having an education,” he said fighting through tears. “But, he passed away due to a stroke June 6th, 2013, the summer of my sophomore year. I lost all motivation, and I lost my why.”

After some painful introspection, he eventually found new motivation.

“The loss of my dad made me realize that I had to be better and carry his legacy,” he said. “Even though my dad is not here, I don’t want to disappoint him, because I know he is looking down on me, waiting for me to fulfill his dream, smiling while I’m heading up the mountain.”

Like Kayla, Jesse, Rasheon, Brianna, and more than 90 of his classmates, in the fall, Ansmane will head to college. He will attend Syracuse University.

His father would be proud.

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Achievement First is a Robin Hood-supported public charter school network with schools in three states including 17 in Brooklyn that serve nearly 6,300 students in grades K-12. Designed to close the achievement gap, Achievement First combines rigorous academics with strong support for students from highly-trained teachers and administrators to ensure every child can succeed.

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