Elon Academy celebrates 12th class at President’s Reception

The Elon Academy celebrated its 12th cohort, the Nu Class, during a celebration with family and supporters at Lakeside Hall on Thursday night.

Posing for a commemorative photo outside Elon’s Moseley Center, members of the Elon Academy Nu Class stood with their futures printed across their chests and unforgettable memories on their minds.

“It’s really very emotional for me,” said Erica Matkins, a Nu Class member and senior at Burlington’s Walter M. Williams High School. “This has been such a blessing for my family and me, so I’m really sad to leave, but I’m happy for the new things that are coming.”

Matkins stood alongside the rest of her cohort while proudly sporting an Elon University t-shirt – she’ll begin her journey Under the Oaks as an Odyssey scholar in the fall. Matkins isn’t alone in taking that next step. All 23 members of the Nu Class are enrolled in college for the fall.

Thursday, the cohort came together for a celebration of the group’s accomplishments in Elon Academy, the university’s college access and success program that has 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.

In its 15 years, Elon Academy has supported more than 400 local students in their pursuit of a college education. To date, 100 percent of scholars who have completed the high school phase of the program have been accepted to college.

During Thursday’s celebration, Elon President Connie Ledoux Book detailed the impressive achievements of the Nu Class. Together, the 23 students received 162 college acceptances to 32 schools and accumulated nearly $2.4 million in merit-based scholarships. The group included Elon Academy’s first Ivy League enrollee, one student awarded UNC-Chapel Hill’s prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship, and seven students attending Elon in the fall as Odyssey scholars.

“This is a true reflection of your work ethic, your tenacity, your commitment, all of which I know will serve you well in college,” Book said. “These accomplishments, impressive as they may be, I know are only a glimpse of the journey ahead. You will continue to have opportunities, and we will be excited to cheer you on in those.”

Book encouraged students to persevere and face challenges head-on. She also reminded them that they will always have a strong support system in the Elon Academy when things get tough on their journeys.

Amber Zettle, a Southern Alamance High School senior who will attend Yale University in the fall, touched on the growth she saw in herself and her peers throughout the program and the life-long relationships they created. Zettle also addressed the significance of the group’s accomplishments despite each student’s obstacles.

“The fact that 100 percent of the scholars in this room are going on to attend college is a statistical improbability,” Zettle said. “There is not a doubt in my mind that you all will continue to conquer the challenges that life puts before you. You would not be here today if you did not have the strength to do so.”

Teresa Walker, the mother of Jessica and Jasmine Walker, who will both attend Elon in the fall, spoke to the group of students and family members about trailblazing and overcoming adversity. She shared anecdotes about students from across the state of North Carolina who have beaten the odds to reach their goals. Walker used those examples to encourage Elon Academy students to continue to push forward, reminding them of all the hurdles they overcame to get to this point.

“You all have already been through such adversity over this past year, surviving a pandemic, having to be denied your senior years and all of the beautiful things that that meant to you,” Walker said.

The group also heard from a current Elon junior and former Elon Academy student. Andy Torres-Reyes ’22 offered advice and encouragement to the cohort, discussing the importance of getting connected on their new campuses and staying in touch with their Elon Academy peers.

Students were surprised with a touching slideshow of photos that looked back at the memories made over the past three years. Following the slideshow, each senior was awarded a maroon and white Elon Academy honor cord, representing their dedication to the program and their futures.

Director of the Elon Academy Terry Tomasek praised the group for overcoming adversity, especially during a global pandemic, and for successfully working to make their college dreams become realities.

“We knew from the very beginning that you were going to rock the Elon Academy world and that’s what you did in a very positive way,” Tomasek said. “You’ve weathered many storms along the way, but you have persevered because you were committed to your goals of attending college.”

Matkins, sitting next to her mother who supported her along the way, reflected on her own growth throughout the ceremony and imagined the exciting future that lies ahead for her on the Elon campus.

“I’m really excited – the Odyssey Program has already been a blessing,” Matkins said. “I’m excited to be part of the Elon community and find myself and find friends who are like me, and even people who are not like me.”