For many top graduates of the Boston Public Schools, the journey to college and beyond is filled with obstacles that often derail their dreams.
When the Boston Globe tracked down BPS valedictorians from the classes of 2005 to 2007, they found about a quarter failed to get a bachelor's degree. None went on to medical school, even though nearly one in four hoped to become doctors.
This reporting inspired a local nonprofit: The Valedictorian Project. Their mentorship model is expanding, keeping kids in college. NBC10 Boston has been tracking two students who are taking part, and caught up with them again over the summer.
Finding confidence in your own talents
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Wilsi Tavares is a rising senior at the School of Hospitality at Boston University. When we first met Tavares, the first in her family to go to college, she told us she wasn't sure he'd get through.
"My spring semester of, my sophomore year I had to change schools. I, I didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, as people say. I thought that was the end of my college path," Tavares said during our original interview with her. Now, she's in a different place.
"I completely forgot that I have said that," she said.
Tavares' mentors at The Valedictorian Project, or TVP, helped her navigate a switch from business school to hospitality.
"I feel I'm more at peace," she said.
An advertising class changed the way she sees her talents.
"I didn't consider myself creative before," she said.
Getting the courage to apply for a hospitality internship at The Marsh Chapel gave her a community.
"I did an interview for a position that I was I was basically telling myself that I wasn't good enough for, and I ended up getting the job."
That comfort zone carries over.
"I feel like I'm getting to that point where I feel comfortable making friends and being outgoing," she said.
Right now, she's studying abroad in Paris - a dream come true that reflects her intellectual and emotional growth. Program organizers say this personal evolution is not unusual.
"We as a program now know more and more sort of the challenges that come up," Amy McDermott, The Valedictorian Project co-founder and executive director, said.
McDermott said many wind up feeling out of place in their first year at college
"They’re stepping onto campuses that look and feel very different from the high schools and communities that they're coming from."
There are 60 new TVP students on campus this fall and more than 150 in total. Each gets a peer mentor and a senior mentor to offer guidance, connections and support.
Transitioning to the college environment
"To say that I'm a junior already and, like, it doesn't feel real to me," Walserson Bobo, who is a junior at Brown University, said.
"Having a STEM major is like, it's much tougher than other students have it," he explained.
"This summer I took organic chemistry...I think it was the most challenging class I've taken in my life."
This is the second summer Bobo has taken a rigorous pre-med course. Unlike many of his classmates, he had to get a job to make it possible.
"I was working for the pre-college program here at Brown so I could pay for dorming and food as well."
On top of a pre-med courseload, Bobo works year-round up to four days a week at a job outside of Boston. His college kickoff was rough.
"At first I hated college because, like I was convinced that like it wasn't for me," he said.
"You see, like a community of, like, people together, especially the Black community on campus. I felt like I felt left out," he added.
Bobo said he started making new friends second semester and came out of his shell, which helped him adjust.
"We want to do everything possible to make sure that they get to that finish line," McDermott said.
And for these two students, it seems to be working.
Wilsi Tavares Pt. 2: [00:14:43] I'm on track to graduate on time," Tavares said.
I still plan to be a doctor in the future," Bobo said. ] "I'm still doing something that no one in my family did."
Tavares is part of the first TVP cohort and is set to graduate this spring. Bobo has another two years. We will continue to follow their progress.
TVP started in Boston but also worked with high-performing students from Lawrence, Brockton, Worcester and Chelsea.
You will find lots more information, including links to the original Boston Globe series which inspired the nonprofit at the Valedictorian Project website.