When asked why he wants to go to college, Anthony Williams has a simple answer.
“My goal is to make something of myself," said Williams, a soon-to-be graduate of Bodine High School and the Philadelphia Futures Sponsor-A-Scholar program.
Last week, Philadelphia Futures held a ceremony to celebrate 25 years of the longstanding mentorship program, which helps the city's low-income, first-generation-to-college students get the tools, resources, and opportunities they need to succeed in both high school and college.
The event, held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, honored 85 graduates from this year's program and from College Connection, a new Futures initiative that provides intensive college preparation to high school juniors and seniors. Also celebrated were 60 college students who have participated in Futures programs.
This year, all 85 of the participants from both programs will graduate high school and attend college, according to Philadelphia Futures. Fifty-seven percent of Sponsor-A-Scholar's students who matriculated into college have gone on to graduate.
The program expects that more than 70 percent of the 2007-11 high school classes will graduate college, according to a spokesperson.
The program works to ensure that "all students have access to equal education and to the opportunity to develop to their full potential,” said Philadelphia Futures executive director Joan Mazzotti.
A crowd of more than 500 spectators filled the auditorium, and applause rang out as each graduate crossed the stage. The students announced their names, schools, and where they’d be headed next.
Sarah Joseph, an alum of Sponsor-A-Scholar, graduated from Lincoln High School in 2004 before attending Haverford College. After receiving her bachelor's degree, she went on to get a graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Joseph, who returned to Philadelphia and now teaches at ASPIRA Olney High School, credits Philadelphia Futures for being a constant source of support through her academic years.
Philadelphia Futures recruits and enrolls students as early as their freshman year in high school. For some, the process is initiated by a teacher or counselor.
“My counselor saw my straight As, called up the program, and said we need to get this kid in,” said Frankie Rodriguez, who will graduate from High School of the Future this month.
Rodriguez, who will attend Lehigh University in the fall to study engineering, had advice for high school students. “The college process is no joke. If you want to attain your goals, don’t let others tell you otherwise. Go with the right fit for you.”
Yuan Zou, also a 2015 Sponsor-A-Scholar graduate, will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Zou, who attended Carver High School, said he got involved in the program when he was told that getting As and Bs was a chance to earn extra money for academic expenses. He soon found that the program provided not only money, but also meaningful enrichment opportunities.
Ming Si Chen, a graduating senior at Northeast High School, participated in the College Connection program. She is headed to Temple University to study business, she said. By going to college, Chen said, students in the program are fulfilling not only their own dreams, but those of many people.
“Our parents didn’t go to college. We’re living out their dream,” Chen said.
Michaela Ward is a summer intern at the Notebook.