More than 100 low-income, first-generation-to-college students gathered Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for Philadelphia Futures’ annual graduation celebration. All 75 students in the program’s high school class of 2017 have been accepted to college. In addition, 49 Futures students will earn their college degrees this year.
The celebration included a procession of the graduates, scholarship awards, the presentation of the Hats Off to You Award to Dr. Benjamin Dube of Eastern University for his commitment to Philadelphia Futures, and remarks from organizational leaders and students.
Jude Dartey, who is graduating from Central High School this month and attending the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, spoke at the celebration. He credited much of his academic success to his involvement with Philadelphia Futures.
“Unlike public high schools in Philadelphia where the needs of students aren’t addressed, Futures ensures that every student in the program receives the individual attention that they need,” Dartey said.
“I truly feel at home in the program, and their dedication to guiding me throughout my educational career always serves as an assurance that I am more than just a number in our education system.”
Philadelphia Futures has served Philadelphia’s low-income, first-generation-to-college students for more than 25 years. The organization works with nearly 600 high school and college students through its two direct-service programs, Sponsor-A-Scholar, which pairs each student with an adult mentor who guides them through school and their college application process, and College Connection, which guides students with a demonstrated academic foundation through the college application and financial aid process, as well as through college completion. Ninety-eight percent of Futures’ students have matriculated to college.
Within Futures, Dartey participated in the Young Men’s Initiative (YMI), which provides gender-specific mentorship for male students, summer programs at Drexel, Eastern, and Temple Universities, and the Sponsor-A-Scholar program.
“Words cannot describe how much of an impact my mentor, Jin Park, has made in my life. Not only does he serve as a person who gives me advice in my everyday life, but I look up to him as a father figure,” Dartey said.
“He helped immensely with my college application process and his advice on the steps I should take during my educational career has been invaluable. He continues to serve as an inspiration, and I hope that I will be able to one day give to another young man the way he has given to me.”
Mentors with the program emphasized that Sponsor-A-Scholar has helped them too.
“I’ve gained so much by mentoring with Philadelphia Futures over the past two years. I can confidently say that the time spent with my mentee, in addition to the extensive support he receives from the Futures program, has made a positive impact on his future,” said Ryan Kingston, a mentor since November 2015.
“I get a warm feeling anytime I think about how I helped Maurice gain access to the higher-education opportunities that I took for granted when I was his age.”
Ty Perry, who had his first mentee through the program over 20 years ago, said, “The personal relationship I have developed with Samir, my mentee, works both ways. I hope to provide some guidance as he makes the big decisions about college choice and other life issues, and in return, he, his friends, and his family have expanded my knowledge and understanding of new cultures and worldviews.”
Carlos Carmona, who has just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in Health and Societies and will begin classes in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in public health, also spoke at the ceremony. Although he was not assigned a formal mentor through the program, he found mentors in the various coordinators and advisers he has worked with.
“Whenever I was in need, I could talk to any staff member at Philadelphia Futures and help would be provided,” Carmona said.
“Not only did they provide me with physical resources to reach out to, but they also encouraged me to practice certain techniques and skills that would be essential in college and the workplace, such as asking for help, advocating for yourself in times of need, and doing research on places before going to an interview or visit,” he said.
By furthering his education through Futures, Carmona said, he hopes to be an inspiration for students from similar backgrounds.
“By making it to graduate school at Penn, I’m defying statistics and stereotypes against my Latinx community once again and showing hope to my younger siblings and the children I’ve mentored that people of color can achieve greatness and beyond,” he said.