My Breakthrough community has shown me how important and powerful it can be to have a group of supportive people around you long-term. I want to make sure other people have the support they need to overcome life’s challenges. – Thens, Breakthrough Boston Campus class of 2019

I am a senior at TechBoston Academy, and I am a member of the first graduating class from Breakthrough’s Boston Campus! I chose to speak with you this evening because Breakthrough has done so much for me and I’ll never be able to pay it back, but this is a way I can show my appreciation.

As a sixth grader, I initially did not want to come to Breakthrough. In my mind, I was supposed to have the summer off and play all day long. But my mother told me that it would be important for my future. And obviously I could not win that argument. After one week in the program, I started to enjoy the environment – even all the cheers. Breakthrough was the first experience I had where school and learning could be fun. I quickly took notice of the things the program was doing for me; I could feel myself getting more prepared, learning the subjects I would need for the following school year. I had seen many of my new Breakthrough peers at school the year before but we built stronger relationships through the summer. When I went back to school in the fall, it felt good to recognize people’s faces and we started to sit together at lunch. Six years later and there is still a Breakthrough crew that eats lunch together every day at the same table. Breakthrough gave me the opportunity to really identify those people, notice students with similar goals and create lasting friendships.

Although I enjoyed learning at Breakthrough, by the time I started high school I was struggling to see why high school mattered or why I should care about classes I didn’t enjoy. I couldn’t see how those decisions would impact my future. My grades dropped and it was hard to stay motivated. At the beginning of 11th grade, I had a conversation with a college advisor and understood how much colleges cared about all my grades, not just the classes I enjoyed. I realized that if I wanted to achieve my goals, I needed to have options when it came to college and, by not trying, I was limiting my future self. I connected with my mentor and he pointed out that, in some ways, I was more mature than many of my peers because of the challenges I had overcome at a young age. I had the tools I needed to improve, but I needed to apply myself. I shifted my mindset and, instead of focusing on the whether or not I liked the content of the class, I focused on my ultimate goal of college. I thought, “How do I maintain this level of focus? And how do my friends impact my ability to focus?” Was I spending time with people who were going to meet up with me at the library to do homework or people who only asked me about which parties I was going to that weekend? I needed friends who were going to be a support to me and remind me about what mattered. My Breakthrough cohort were those people for me — asking about my homework, checking in on my goals, and understanding when I had to say “no” to distracting activities. My grades steadily got better and I was on the honor roll every term of junior year. This qualified me to take AP Calculus and AP Computer Science my senior year. Based on those junior year grades, I was also able to take courses at New York University last summer on a full scholarship.

Those summer classes showed me that I was capable of sitting next to college seniors and performing well. When I came back to Boston to start senior year, I was ready to be engaged in my AP classes. Spending all summer on a college campus with college students made my dreams feel more tangible and exciting. While taking on these challenging classes, I was working two jobs: one at Walgreens Pharmacy and one as a math tutor at Mathnasium (a job I secured because of my previous role as junior teacher in the Breakthrough summer program!). Throughout all of this my Breakthrough peers were there, supporting me when I was exhausted because I got home from work between 8-11pm every night and still had to do my homework. They understood what I was trying to achieve because they were working towards the same goal. In my AP Calculus class, I loved pushing myself to solve complex mathematical problems and started to explore how I could combine my interest in math with my passion for working with people. I discovered business, where I could continue to challenge myself to use my quantitative skills and develop strong relationships with people every day.

I am excited to share that I will be pursuing business at Bentley University in the fall! Ultimately, I would like to found an organization to support people with their mental health. My Breakthrough community has shown me how important and powerful it can be to have a group of supportive people around you long-term. Over the years, we have all been through so much and have been there for each other through it all; I want to make sure other people have the support they need to overcome life’s challenges. I am so lucky that this is the group of people that I get to graduate with. This is one milestone of the journey achieved, but we can celebrate the beginning of something new and I am ready to take that next step, together.

Watch a video Then’s remarks at our Gala on May 1, 2019.