13th Elon Academy cohort recognized at President’s Reception

Eighteen students in the Xi cohort of the Elon Academy were celebrated at Lakeside Upstairs on Tuesday, May 10.

Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book, left, and Associate Professor of Education and Director of the Elon Academy Terry Tomasek, right, pose with Elon Academy students at the President’s Reception, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, at Lakeside. (Rob Brown photo)

Eighteen high school students gathered in the Lakeside Upstairs buzzing with excitement about their soon-to-come graduation and glowing with anticipation about the bright futures ahead of them.

They were gathered with their families to celebrate their progress and achievements during the past four years as members of the Xi Cohort of Elon Academy, the university’s college access and success program.

“Xi scholars, the last few years have truly tested your mettle in completely unanticipated ways,” said John Pickett, associate director of the Elon Academy. “However, you persevered and now you’re getting ready to move on from high school to college,” said John Pickett, associate director of the Elon Academy, to members of the Elon Academy’s Xi cohort during Tuesday’s President’s Reception.

A part of the Center for Access and Success, the Elon Academy is a nonprofit program for academically promising high school students in Alamance County with a financial need and/or no family history of college. The program consists of three consecutive summer residential experiences before the sophomore, junior and senior years, as well as year-round Saturday programs for students and families.

Janeeta Smith, one of those 18 students itching to start the next chapter in her life, is a senior at Western Alamance High School but will soon go to school at an institution less than three miles away.

“The Elon community is so warm and comforting and the people are really friendly,” said Smith, who will enter Elon as an Isabella Cannon Leadership Fellow this fall. Coming to Elon as a psychology major, Smith credits the Elon Academy for helping inform her about several aspects that made applying for college a little less stressful than usual including fee waivers and other opportunities granted to her as a first-generation student.

But more importantly than that, Smith says being a member of Elon Academy has helped her in so many ways outside the classroom.

“It has made me feel comfortable with certain identities I have,” she said, “My confidence and how I speak in public have also improved. I’m not as nervous as I was before the Elon Academy.”

Dillion Page, a senior from Eastern Alamance High School and set to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in August, echoed the sentiment of Elon Academy helping his personal development.

“I was very antisocial in a way because I always got in my head about things,” Page said. “But with Elon Academy … I was able to be free in a way and express myself. Through that freedom, I found belonging and was able to come out of my shell.”

The 18 students in the Xi cohort collectively received 106 college acceptance letters from 37 different schools and amassed over $1.5 million in merit-based scholarships. Two students from the cohort will attend historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), three will attend Elon and one student will attend an Ivy League institution, the second in the history of the Elon Academy.

“Those are just a few examples of impressive accomplishments and a glimpse of the bright path that your collegiate journeys are going to take you on,” President Connie Ledoux Book said to the Xi cohort at the reception. “I’m confident that Elon Academy helped stage the skills and talents that you’re going to need to succeed in college.”

Elon Academy students chat before the President’s Reception, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, at Lakeside.

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.

“Whenever you have a question or need guidance on something, you’ve got a whole community of people here that will help you navigate those first few years in college,” Book said.

Before the reception, students received a letter they wrote to themselves four years ago. Most students forgot they had even written them but were amazed by how far they’ve come with the help of the Elon Academy.

“Initially, reading it was cringe because this was my freshman self,” Page said. “But then it got serious near the end and there’s one line that stuck with me. ‘Don’t let your ambitions consume you.’ It made me realize that ambitions are good, and goals are necessary but you need to appreciate the people around you and not sacrifice them for your ambitions.”

Smith said she was surprised by her determination to actualize what her dreams were four years ago.

“One thing that stuck out to me was getting into my first choice, which was Elon. It was nice seeing that and accomplishing that,” Smith said.

Jennifer Te Vazquez, a graduate of the Elon Academy Kappa cohort in 2018 and a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, spoke to the current Elon Academy students about embracing the journey ahead of them. Vazquez gave the students four tips to make their college experience a successful one – step out of your comfort zone, find balance, seize the moment and prioritize yourself.

“Be proud of your W’s and learn from your L’s,” Vazquez said. “You deserve the spot that you earned at the university, and you deserve the opportunity to march to the beat of your own drum.”

The Elon Academy was launched by Elon University, but the program is not funded through tuition dollars. The sustainability of the academy is dependent on the generosity of individuals, businesses and foundations. “To our donors and our friends, the success that we celebrate today would not be possible without your generosity, your time and your energy,” Pickett said.

Elon Academy Director Terry Tomasek will be stepping down as director of the academy following the Xi cohort, with Pickett moving into the director’s role. During the reception, Tomasek showed the audience a picture that hangs in her office of sea turtles she researched while in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. One image on the sign shows the turtles laying eggs on the shore and another shows the turtles returning to the sea with the words, “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go,” underneath the images.

With tears in her eyes, she remembered dropping her son off at his dorm and how she needed to let go and allow him to experience the fullness of life.

“Families, it’s your turn to balance holding on and letting go. Scholars, … you’ll need to let go of the familiar and make room for the unfamiliar,” Tomasek said. “However, I want you to hold on to your EA values – persistence in the face of challenge, gratitude and being proactive.”