Elon Academy holds 5th anniversary gala

A celebration of the university’s college access program brings together local students and community supporters who make their dreams possible.


In the five years since it first welcomed academically promising Alamance County teenagers to campus, local high school students with no prior family history of attending college or who come from homes with financial need, the Elon Academy has changed lives.

Many lives.

The first students selected in 2007 to take part in the higher education access program hosted by Elon University are today sophomores at colleges and universities across the state. Those students have younger siblings now enrolling in the Elon Academy, and in some instances, their classmates in the Alamance-Burlington School System also found motivation to continue their studies after high school, a “ripple effect” of what Elon has initiated.

Those accomplishments and the lives that have been permanently inspired by the Elon Academy were celebrated April 27, 2012, in a special gala at the Alamance Country Club attended by current Elon Academy scholars, alumni of the program, students’ families and the benefactors whose generous support and encouragement made their achievements possible.

“From amazing friends who have the same goals and aspirations as me, to providing a paid internship to expose me to the work force, to supporting me with a mentor and academic coach for free, Elon Academy has changed my life for the better,” Nompahla Mtsabiwa, a junior at Williams High School in Burlington, N.C., said in formal remarks. “Before this program, I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know what it took to actually get there. Now I know how to get to college and I know that I am prepared for a bright future.”

The Elon Academy is a three-year program for academically-talented, Alamance County students selected during their freshman year in high school. Scholars spend part of the next three summers engaging in academic and enrichment activities on campus, with weekend programs for scholars and their families throughout the year.

The summer after high school graduation, scholars and families participate in the Elon Academy Transitions to College Program. Once on their respective college campuses, Elon Academy graduates and families are provided with continuing support through the Elon Academy College Success Program to ensure college completion.

Former North Carolina state Sen. Howard Lee, currently executive director of the N.C. Education Cabinet and founder of the Howard N. Lee Institute, served as keynote speaker. Lee encouraged guests to “pay it forward” by supporting the Elon Academy and the students whose lives will forever be changed in ways that won’t always be known.

“It isn’t just money. It’s giving a part of yourself,” Lee said. “It’s investing your time to say to a young person, not only are you valuable, but you are capable of succeeding no matter what ZIP code you come from or live in. … The Elon Academy, to me, is a shining example of how people are paying forward, investing in young people.

“The Elon Academy offers hope to kids who otherwise might not have hope.”

Graduates of the program spoke as well. One alumna shared how the program did more for her than get her ready for college.

“The Elon Academy became like a family to me,” said Araceli Morales-Santos, a current freshman at Wake Forest University. “The Academy gave me the opportunity to meet great mentors, faculty, and staff. It also allowed me to create new memories that I will always carry with me wherever I go. And until this day I still talk to the wonderful scholars I became best friends with.

“This program also made a difference by shaping each scholar into the young adults we are today. From those same mentors, faculty, and teachers we learned all about responsibility, respect, honesty, and leadership. Through service and volunteering activities as part of the program we have learned that giving back to the ones in need is the basis towards forming a better community.”

Academy leaders shared reflections, too.

“Elon Academy students have tremendous potential, and the goal of the academy is to ensure that they have every opportunity to realize that potential,” said Professor Deborah Long, director of the Elon Academy. “As a community, as a state, as a nation, and as a global competitor, we cannot afford to lose these bright, talented, hardworking, determined young people. We have amazing talent in our community and through the Elon Academy we have the opportunity to ensure that these students who aspire to go to college are able to realize that dream.”

Additional commentary on the program was provided by Josh Hilgartner, a senior at Eastern Alamance High School, and Charlie Crutchfield, father of Stacey Crutchfield, who graduated in the first class of scholars and is a sophomore at Elon.

Crystal Owens, a junior at Eastern Alamance High School, sang a selection for guests from a school play in which she recently performed onstage.

Elon University President Leo M. Lambert seconded Lee’s remarks with his own observations on the overwhelming success of a program that has long had the backing of the university’s Board of Visitors.

“You are investing in this program in ways that will never be fully revealed to you in your lifetime,” Lambert said.