Alamance County high school seniors taking part in Elon University’s college access and success program were recognized Thursday for their achievements.
Surrounded by their families and mentors, members of the Elon Academy Delta Class gathered Thursday in McKinnon Hall for a reception where university leaders praised their academic achievements while celebrating their pending high school graduations and college acceptances.
Elon University President Leo M. Lambert welcomed the scholars and their families to the program. He lauded the group for their work on a book, “Speaking Out: Underrepresented Students Challenging the Inequities of College Access,” which 13 of the scholars published to depict the challenges and hopes facing teens both in Alamance County and nationwide.
“We are deeply proud of each and every one of you,” Lambert said. “You are going on to very fine colleges and universities, including Elon, and we look forward to maintaining a relationship with you throughout college and beyond. This is not the end. This is a celebration, a milestone along the way.”
New this year was a gift to scholars from the North Carolina Eta Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. The chapter sheltered at Elon University, represented at the program by Professor Glenda Crawford and Helen Walton in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, gave each scholar copies of the books “The Boy Who Harnessed the Win” and “What the Best College Students Do.”
Elon Academy director Deborah Long also offered remarks. The professor in the School of Education likened the group to “my very own children” for the bonds they have forged with her since their selection into the program.
Long recognized the role parents and relatives played in the scholars’ success. She acknowledged that part of their initial anxiety was on the possibility that the Elon Academy could raise hopes too high. “In spite of your fears, you and your children decided to take a chance,” she said. “There were no guarantees. Elon Academy families, thank you for trusting us.”
Elon University launched the Elon Academy in 2007 to give students from local high schools the opportunity to embrace education, develop leadership skills and engage in various outreach venues. The academy is welcoming its seventh class of students into the program this summer.
The May 9 program featured remarks from AJ Nwoko, who graduated from high school two years ago as part of the Elon Academy. Nwoko studied at Alamance Community College and will soon transfer to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study journalism.
Nwoko, a self-described runner, likened high school and college to a long-distance race. There are moments of exhilaration, he said, especially at the start. It’s the later stretches that challenge someone’s focus and dedication, but that doesn’t mean a support system isn’t in place.
“If you’ve ever run a 5K (race), you know exactly what I’m talking about,” he said. “You’re running, and there are people on the sideline cheering you on. That’s the Elon Academy. That’s your family. That’s your friends.”
“When you’re running, I don’t care if you run the whole entire race, if you have to slow down and walk, or if you fall right on your face and you have to crawl mile after mile, because you know what? You’re getting closer to that finish line, and if you stop, you’re not going anywhere. That distance will still be ahead of you. Keep challenging yourself to move forward even if it’s at a turtle’s pace.”
Speakers at the afternoon ceremony included Cazandra Rebollar, a senior at Western Alamance High School set to attend Wake Forest University; Raymond Graves, the father of Graham High School senior Kehyonah Graves; and Associate Professor Terry Tomasek in Elon’s School of Education.
“You have learned not to let fear stop you or deter you from pursuing your dreams and goals,” Tomasek said. “You are all going to have many opportunities and challenges as you go off to college. The question is this: Will you see the challenge in an opportunity? Or will you see an opportunity in the challenge?”
Modeled after similar programs at Princeton, Furman and Vanderbilt universities, the Academy is a year-round program for students in the Alamance-Burlington School System who have financial need or have no family history of college attendance. It combines three intensive four-week summer residential experiences at Elon with a variety of academic activities throughout the school year.
Its goal is to inspire and empower students to attend four-year colleges or universities, and go on to assume leadership roles in their communities.
Members of the Delta Class will be attending the following colleges and universities:
Alamance Community College
Appalachian State University
East Carolina University
North Carolina State University
University of Florida
UNC Chapel Hill
Wake Forest University