Friends, family and supporters gathered with members of Elon Academy's Lambda Class to applaud their achievements and cheer them on as they prepare to start college this fall.
Look no further for evidence of what the 10th Class of the Elon Academy has accomplished than the array of school colors and mascots adorning their T-shirts as they posed for a group picture outside McKinnon Hall on Thursday night.
The May 16 President's Reception was a chance for these inspirational Alamance County high school students to display their school pride as each prepares to graduate and head off to college or university later this year, a new future that many of them may have thought was out of reach when they started Elon Academy four years ago. Many will become the first in their families to pursue a college degree, and since their first year in high school, they've bonded with each other and Elon students, faculty and staff as they have excelled academically and navigated the challenging process of applying to college.
"Your accomplishments, impressive as they are, are only a glimpse of the bright path on which your collegiate journey will take you in the years ahead," President Connie Ledoux Book told the students. "I am confident you have tremendous skills and talents — exactly what you will need in the years ahead."
These 17 seniors from Alamance County high schools represent the 10th class of students to participate in Elon Academy, Elon's college access and success program that's become a national model.
Selected during their first year of high school, Elon Academy participants gather on Saturdays during the school year and spend an extended time on Elon's campus during the summer learning leadership skills, being exposed to college-level academics and receiving support as they prepare to apply for college. The program targets students with financial need and/or no family history of attending college.
Book reported that this year's class received more than 100 college acceptance letters and $3.9 million in merit-based scholarships. This fall, they will be heading to Elon, Appalachian State University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Alamance Community College.
"We knew from the very beginning that you were going to rock the Elon Academy world — in a good way — and you have far exceeded our expectations," said John Pickett, interim director of the Elon Academy. "You have weathered many storms along the way, but you have persevered because you were committed to your goal of attending college."
Lambda Class member DiMari Faucette described Elon Academy as a guide during the past four years as he has navigated "the trials and tribulations of high school." Faucette told the crowd that the experience has created another family for him, and given him a clearer vision of what pursuing college means, and what it can mean for the future.
"Growing up in Burlington, you see a lot of people who almost make it, but fall short because they're missing a strong support system," Faucette said. "Someone behind them telling them to never give up, to never stop pushing forward, to bet on themselves and be confident in everything they do. That is the Elon Academy."
Angel Scales stood where these 17 Elon Academy students stood five years ago as a member of the academy's Epsilon Class, preparing to leave home for Wake Forest University. Now as she gets ready to start her studies at Georgetown Law School this fall, Scales offered insight to these soon-to-be graduates as they prepare for their own new journeys.
She encouraged them to no be afraid to step outside their comfort zones, to create opportunities for themselves and to rely on their support networks. Trying the new and the unfamiliar takes courage, but is an investment in the future, and can provide new opportunities that can pay off over the long run, Scales advised.
Scales shared that her connections to Elon Academy and its continued support helped her through challenging times while she was at Wake Forest. "Taking a little risk each time and relying on lots of support, I created an opportunity for myself that turned into something positive for my future," Scales said.
Candice Harrell, the mother of Lambda Class member Nyjah Rollins, offered a parent's perspective with her message to the students to "persevere and keep pushing." She noted how the Elon Academy model helps teach students and their families the nuances of college and the application process, helping to remove many doubts, fears and insecurities. "By using the resources provided by Elon Academy — summer sessions, Saturday programs, mentoring, academic coaching — you learned how to face your roadblocks and work your way around them," Harrell said. "In other words, you learned to persevere."
Now as they head off to college, Harrell said it's time to "keep pushing" — for ideals, passions, acceptance, community, love and greatness. "Through all of this, don't forget that Elon Academy is just a phone call, text or an email away," she said. "They are a constant resource wanting to help you achieve greatness."
Each member of the Lambda Class received the gift of "What the Best College Students Do" by Ken Bain from the Elon chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. New this year, each member of the class received a maroon and white "honor cord" that they will wear at their high school graduation.
Princess King, assistant director of college success with Elon Academy, closed the ceremony by asking the class to look around the room. "It's filled with individuals who believe in you," King said. "We are a family, and just like family, we will be here to support you, encourage you, and give you a kick in the butt when you need it. This is your time to be great, Lambdas. Show the world just how great you are."