As Cohort 10 heads off to college, we love to celebrate students like Daniel who took every opportunity to set themselves up for success in their first year of college – including writing over 30 scholarship essays during a very busy senior year. But it was with the partnership of a very dedicated volunteer that Daniel was able to see himself succeeding in college.
Dennis came to volunteer with College Connect after a very successful career with large corporations. Spending his time getting back into creative writing and serving in Board of Directors roles, he felt he was supporting his community, but not getting down to the “nitty, gritty” of making a difference – and that’s when he found Mission Graduates.
Dennis on Daniel
During his first year, Dennis was paired with Cohort 9’s Valentina and was able to support her on her path to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. And during this year, he said that he found a new vitality that made him want to keep partnering with these young people as they figure out their futures.
As he was paired with Daniel last summer, he knew the initial meeting would be strange. “Who is this old guy?” but as Daniel recounted, they quickly found a deeper connection – in literature, jazz and classical music, and social justice issues.
One thing that quickly became clear is Daniel’s determination to overcome a stutter. Debate team and speaking up on social issues helped him gain the confidence he needed to keep pushing to find the right college path. And when Dennis received a link to Daniel’s debate speech, he could not have been more proud. “He stood up there, speaking without one stutter, with any hesitation. It was like watching him conduct a symphony orchestra. And most of what he said was what we’d written together. He truly believed it.”
With that special connection, they were able to go beyond just writing, but planning for a bright future. “We spent time talking about the social impact of a Latino kid going to a private school – and what his peers may be like. People may not see him with all of his strengths, and how to stand up to that.”
Now having seen two students off to college, Dennis is working with Alex this year, a young man that recently immigrated to San Francisco with very little English 3 years ago and dove right into planning for his future. Working 8 hours after attending school each day, Alex carves out a few hours every Sunday to prepare his college applications.
Dennis sees a similar strength in Alex and is working with him to highlight his courage and fortitude in his personal statement essays this year. “I remind him that the very thing you think is terrible about you, or going to keep you from being happy, is actually a gift, it makes you unique and special, and has developed amazing character and values in you.”
As a veteran Writing Partner, Dennis sees his role as a support during the personal statement process clearly – to ask penetrating questions, encourage self-reflection, and ask why. “I keep pushing them to go deeper – what would you really want someone to know about you?”
And to not worry about the process. “I’ve learned to not worry about getting through three paragraphs a session – the content has to be there before the writing can work. And once we have that, we can focus on the writing – how to speak and write directly and with confidence.”
With each scholarship or college admittance letter, he knows he will keep coming back for more. “These students are so impressive, they keep showing up, doing the hard work, and showing their dedication to succeeding.”
And that keeps him hopeful. “I’m not worried about what’s in the news today – these kids really are our future.”