What Our Students Learned at “Beating the Odds”

August 23, 2016

By Allie Ciaramella, Communications Manager

July 19 was a proud day for many NCAN members, as our students were welcomed with enthusiasm to First Lady Michelle Obama’s annual “Beating the Odds” Summit. In addition to accepting two outstanding students to represent NCAN as a whole, the White House welcomed others from members including Summer Search and the Florida College Access Network.

NCAN was flooded with nominations from 40 member organizations vying to have their students represent our network, but the White House only had room for 129 students who’ve overcome significant barriers to graduate high school and attend college – so we had to restrict ourselves to just two nominees, and Thomas Perez and Victor Rodriguez of CollegeCommunityCareer were randomly selected to fill the slots.

In a reflection posted on the NCAN blog, Thomas said being in the White House and hearing from the First Lady gave him a newfound confidence. “When she was our age, she was told she was aiming too high, and now look at her,” he said. “If you fight for what you want, good things will come your way."

The big day featured big names, from YouTube personality Tyler Oakley to musical artist Jidenna and Education Secretary John King, but Rodriguez said he also learned a lot from the informational panels and their “potent” tricks and tips, including tools and strategies for the college transition.

“I want people to know that it's possible to do this,” Victor said. “Growing up in a tough situation, there's so much negativity. You can't escape. The world makes it seem like it's so hard to invest in yourself. If I can do it, you can do it."

Perez and Rodriguez were among friends at the summit. Anthony Ransom-Cason represented the Florida College Access Network, and Summer Search sent Brittnee Anderson and Odanel Brito-Sanchez to the third annual event.

From FCAN’s website:

For Anthony, growing up as an only child in a single-parent home presented its challenges … After spending most of his childhood in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, Anthony and his mother moved to Gainesville the summer before his junior year of high school to be closer to family … To help Anthony thrive in his new environment, Anthony’s mom focused on getting her son involved in quality extracurricular activities and spending time with positive role models. Although Anthony’s mom never attended college herself, she very much wanted her son to have that opportunity.

Midway through high school, it was not a given that attending college was in Anthony’s future. He was far from a bad student, but he had never fully applied himself academically … A few months after moving to Gainesville, Anthony met a man at his church named John Alexander. Alexander was the director of the Reichert House Youth Academy, an after-school program for middle and high school youth … Reichert House was a game-changer for Anthony ... As Reichert House’s first student body president, he set up fundraisers to pay for such items as school supplies and college tours for his fellow students … As Anthony’s leadership skills and self-confidence grew, he began working harder in school. His grades continued to improve, even while continuing his work at Reichert, pursuing other leadership opportunities and joining the JROTC during his final two years of high school.

Anthony’s first choice was Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, which offered him an ROTC scholarship to start this fall … His mother suffered an aneurysm in December, which made the potential move to Tallahassee difficult. Anthony instead made the decision to stay close to his mother and attend Santa Fe College.

“I realized that with every single accomplishment I’ve made, I couldn’t have done it alone. When I needed help, I asked for help,” Anthony said. “My peers and I can have too much pride to ask for help. I think it’s one of the major problems when it comes to school and academics.”

That lesson from the First Lady definitely resonated with our students. From Summer Search’s website:

Odanel took the practical, concrete advice and resources to heart, saying “I have to balance both social and academic bases of college life. And I learned that the FAFSA has a new date!”

“I learned that you can’t do everything alone and to ask for help when you need it,” Brittnee said. “And to get involved. Getting involved helps an unknown, alone and strange place become home. Getting involved will get you connects, friends and most of all a new place to call home.”

As the Summer Search team headed back to Philadelphia after an amazing day, Kaitlin summed up their feelings of gratitude.

“We’re grateful for the leadership and passion of Michelle Obama in creating visibility around college access and supporting all students in getting there, particularly low-income, first-generation-to-college students — she really gets it!”

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