I believe everyone has stereotypes and preconceived notions that others use to define them. These harmful labels ensure that that person doesn’t live up to their fullest potential. I have been afflicted by these caricatures all my life, however, whenever straight As appear on my report card or whenever I win a debate tournament, I am defying these stereotypes of myself. This is precisely what the Upward Bound program has taught me to do. To challenge and confront stereotypes.
Faces of the Upward Bound Program
Upward Bound is a remarkably unusual program. We have students from all walks of life; coming from all corners of the world. Each unique in every single way, except one, all Upward Bound students are united in the fact that we are all outsiders. The Pakistani girl who fled an arranged marriage in her home-country, whose parents discouraged her from finishing high school, but now passionately pursues higher education. The Hispanic boy who refuses a life as a construction worker or as a gardener but who one day aspires to become an aerospace engineer. The 6 ft 5 in African American student who hates football and hates basketball but already knows how to code and one day hopes to become a computer scientist. I pride myself on being an outsider. I pride myself in defying stereotypes. I pride myself on being a devoted member of the Upward Bound program.
Higher Education a Reality
It is through this same program I was able to apply for, get accepted to and attend Pomona College with a full-ride scholarship. Were it not for the guidance and support offered to me by my mentors at the Upward Bound program, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Besides the countless weekends I spent getting tutored for the SAT or attending college application workshops, the scholarship award given to me by The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs’ Youth of the Year program made it possible for me to attend my dream school, which is in a state entirely different from my home, 2,000 miles away. I owe all the success I have to The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs and the Upward Bound program, and all the people in it that sought to believe in me and to make my potential a reality.
Message to Youth of the Year Participants
To all those applying for the scholarship, I want to commend you on your efforts. I want to let you know that you are a role model for younger friends, your younger siblings, your younger cousins, your younger nephews, and everybody in your neighborhood. Slowly but truly we are making our communities a better place… and The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs, the Youth of the Year program, and Upward Bound are all we have to thank for it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tesfamichael Negussie was The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year 2017 overall winner, receiving the top prize of $10,250. Negussie participated in The Salvation Army’s Upward Bound Program at Wisdom High School. Currently, he attends Pomona College in Claremont, California.
Negussie is an Ethiopian immigrant who came to the United States at the age of two. During his high school career, he excelled academically and participated in community service activities, including founding the Young Ethiopian Council.