Last night my wife Michele and I attended the Latino Student Fund’s 2014 Showcase of Scholars at Sidwell Friends School. We have tutored through the LSF for six years now and Michele is on the organization’s board of directors. It was an outstanding evening.
The event celebrated the successful conclusion of the term for the 99 students currently attending 61 schools who receive financial assistance and academic support through this fine group. We have been to many of these ceremonies but this one was by far the best. The program had been reinvented in a way that let the kids shine. For example, in the past an adult acted as the Master of Ceremonies but not on this occasion. It was the students, Luisa Aleman, Santiago Canencio, Joey Hamilton, and Taylor Kittrell, who served as emcees, with ones from the earlier grades having to stand on rectangular blocks in order for their voices to reach the microphone at the lectern. These young individuals stole the hearts of the crowd in attendance.
Lisa Fuentes, an LSF 2013 Gala chair and Sidwell Friends School parent, introduced Josh Wolman, Sidwell’s director of admissions and financial aid, by pointing out that Mr. Wolman had impressively increased Latino student enrollment during his tenure at the school by five percent. During his address Mr. Wolman revealed that he is now going to head a private school in Colorado and will miss all of the LSF Scholars that he felt became part of his family.
The Keynote Speaker was Jeff Collier, Mid-Atlantic regional sales vice president of the Grainger Corporation. Mr. Collier spoke movingly about growing up on a farm raised by a single mother during which time the closest person lived miles away. The isolation, according to Mr. Collier, gave him time to think, and to dream. He encouraged the students to dream and to follow their paths as he was especially fortunate to do throughout his life. At the conclusion of his remarks he presented the LSF with a $7,500 contribution from his company.
There were many other highlights between students in the various grades from Pre-Kindergarten to twelfth coming to the stage to receive their graduation certificates. The best part for me was the senior Keynote Address given by Alex LaNoire, who is graduating from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School. Mr. LaNoire will be attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore County this year for college. He talked about his parents coming to this country from Lima, Peru. Both are employed as laborers in order to send their child to private school in their effort to have him lead a successful life. It became obvious their hard work is paying off. Mr. LaNoire recalled his several years as a student in the Latino Student Fund’s Saturday morning tutoring program. He stated that it was through the tutoring program that he learned about the benefits he could receive as a Scholar.
Once he became old enough, Mr. LaNoire returned to the tutoring program, but this time to teach those younger than himself. He described the transition from tutee to tutor to be a strange one with kids now looking up to him as an example to follow just as he had viewed those not that long ago who had provided him with academic aid and mentoring. He concluded by pointing out that this newly acquired role helped build his own character and was just one example of how the Latino Student Fund is changing lives every day.
In fact, as is always the case, all of the high school students who attended through the LSF Scholars Program graduated, a rate far surpassing the traditional school, charter school, and Opportunity Scholarship Program percentages in the nation’s capital. The seniors are going on to attend institutions such as Stanford University, Loyola University, and the United States Naval Academy.
As is customary, a Community Service Award was presented; this year the recipient was Melanie Delgado from the Academy of the Holy Cross. The Civic Engagement Award went to Madeleine Bohlen from the National Presbyterian School, and the Leadership Award was given to Stefano Escoto, the student admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy. Joey Hamilton, who had a 4.5 grade point average in high school, won the Academic Award. He will be attending the University of Virginia.
The executive director of the LSF, Maria Fernanda Borja, closed the Showcase with a professionally produced video including remarks by some of the other students served by the group. The student that I tutor had a starring role, and by the end of the program the broad smiles on the faces of those in the audience were apparently permanently affixed.