To the Graduating Class of 2019 at Reach for Excellence:

Founded in 2001, Reach for Excellence is a tuition-free academic and leadership enrichment program for underserved middle school students in the metro Atlanta area. The program is a three-year commitment, which includes weekend and summer classes. Though it is hosted by Marist School, Reach for Excellence is an independent 501(c)(3) that is responsible for its own funding and is governed by its own board of directors. For more information, please visit reachforexcellence.org. Rachel is part of Reach for Excellence's graduating class of 2011, Cohort I.

To the Graduating Class of 2019 at Reach for Excellence:

Eight years ago as part of Cohort I, I was sitting in the very seats at Marist that you are sitting in – excited that I was no longer last to eat at lunch, happy to volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul wearing my red Reach shirt, and nervous about beginning ninth grade at a new school. I was glad that there were no more SSAT prep classes but equally as sad that I would not get to socialize with friends over breakfast or recreation periods. It was an emotionally conflicting time to be in for me. There’s no doubt that completing the three-year commitment brought you and your family a sense of accomplishment, but as this chapter of your life closes, it’s also inevitable that you will be bittersweet about moving on to high school and leaving behind the memories made here at Reach.

2011 Cohort I Stepping Up Ceremony

2011 Cohort I Stepping Up Ceremony

I may be eight years older, but like you, I’m also going through a transition in my life. In under 10 days, I’ll be embarking on perhaps the most drastic decision I have ever made, living abroad in Taiwan for an entire year as an English teaching assistant. Despite the number of times I’ve switched schools and moved to different places, transitions remain a scary time. While I’m ecstatic about making new friends and improving my Mandarin skills, I’m also anxious about not seeing most of my family or close friends for a whole year. I’m nervous about getting along with people that I have to work with as well as navigating in a country that I have never been to. These are very normal emotions to have in times of transition. Nonetheless, I’m not here to scare you about high school. I’m here to share my experiences on how to maintain your friendships and succeed in high school.

       

 

Real talk: It’s very difficult to maintain friendships in-person when you don’t drive, don’t own a car, and don’t have money to spend. Friendships also goes both ways; one person can’t maintain a friendship if the other person don’t put in the effort. However, I’m here to tell you that I still have two very good friends from Reach that I keep in contact with regularly, and it is possible to keep the friendships you have made here over three years. You don’t have to see someone every week or every month to still be friends. You can mutually support each other on social media – complain about algebra or geometry homework together on Snapchat, congratulate your friend on their award over Instagram, share funny videos with each other on YouTube. It can be that simple. It shows that you care about your friend’s life and that you are willing to stay friends. Most of all, all of you will be there to support each other through the transition to high school because every, single one of you are going through the same experience.

2011 Cohort I Stepping Up Ceremony

As you are all finishing up your last days at Reach, I want to share the impact that Reach has made on my life in the long run. Looking back, Reach has given me an immeasurable amount of opportunities. To be honest, twelve-year-old me was excited for field trips just to get out of the classroom and chat with my friends in the other two classes. Now, I realized that those very field trips to museums, historic sites, and employers taught me about a variety of different job fields and allowed me to imagine limitless possibilities for my future. For a few years in middle and high school, I thought I would become a media journalist because a field trip to the Fox 5 news studio exposed me to the field. I became extremely interested in writing and history because a project on WWII at Reach taught me to write and reflect about the sights I saw after visiting The Breman Museum about the Holocaust. I became more knowledgeable about the different types of colleges and universities after touring both Oglethorpe University and Emory University.

May 2015 – high school graduation from The Lovett School

Reach has also taught me to be unforgivingly myself and be my own advocate. I’m confident that all of you have experienced a time where you felt like you didn’t belong or had to pretend you were someone else in order to fit in. At Reach, I learned to find my voice. I was unapologetic in asking questions in class or sharing an opinion during class discussion. I had to combat the belief that it wasn’t cool to be smart (it is smart to be cool – my favorite people in my life are all super intelligent, quirky, and continue to make an impact in their communities). In high school, most of you will be back to being the youngest at school. Despite this fact, you need to learn to advocate for yourself. Speak up when something isn’t right. Ask for help when you need it. Search and ask for summer opportunities when you want them. Don’t rely on others to come to you and help, but always remember to thank someone if they do (preferably in-person or with a thoughtful handwritten note).

When I visited Reach, I saw myself in many of you: bright, curious, and just a little bit mischievous. Along the way, there will be people who push you down and doubt your worth. If no one has told you before, I’m here to tell you that you deserve a quality education, you deserved all the school acceptances that you received, you are capable of all the difficult academic classes you sit in, and, most of all, you are resilient enough to get up after failing and graceful enough to soar above every hurdle, doubt, and struggle in the future. You have to believe in yourself.

In four years, I look forward to reading about your acceptances into colleges, universities, technical schools, or wherever you choose to continue living a rewarding and fulfilling life. I hope by then, you’ll recall Reach’s influence on your education at your high school graduation and remember to pay it forward to the Reach graduates of the Class of 2023 and beyond.

With much love,

Rachel

Class of 2011 Reach graduate

Druid Hills Middle ’11, The Lovett School ’15, Macalester College ’19

 

 

 

 

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Founded in 2001, Reach for Excellence is a tuition-free academic and leadership enrichment program for underserved middle school students in the metro Atlanta area. The program is a three-year commitment, which includes weekend and summer classes. Though it is hosted by Marist School, Reach for Excellence is an independent 501(c)(3) that is responsible for its own funding and is governed by its own board of directors. For more information, please visit reachforexcellence.org. Rachel is part of Reach for Excellence's graduating class of 2011, Cohort I.

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