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By Zach Giordano | video by Sam Crimmins
| June 19, 2019
Growing older just happens, but growing up takes work. Defined by experience, accomplishments, and mistakes, growing up occurs when we take what we’ve learned and use it to propel ourselves into what’s next. And when it comes to facing the future, there are few people more aware of what it takes than high school seniors.
Ahria and Michael, both proud Zone members of the Scholar Athletes program at Boston Latin Academy, have officially closed the book on their high school years and are excited for their next chapter. With college on the near horizon, they’re well aware of the combination of diligence and support from educators, mentors, and parents that has helped set them on a steady course.
Over their final school semesters, they’ve reflected on what it’s taken to reach their personal goals—setbacks, achievements, and all—and grow into who they are today.
The countdown is on. Here’s why Ahria and Michael feel ready to launch.
Ahria, 18, from Roslindale, has her eyes set on becoming a civil rights lawyer to fight against discrimination and injustice. But she hasn’t always projected the level of confidence it takes to stare inequality in the face and fight for what’s right.
As a freshman, she says, “I felt assured when it came to academics, but had a hard time socially because I didn’t surround myself with people who fully recognized my value.”
It took some time, but with the help of her parents and some inspiring personalities on social media, Ahria began to see her individual value. “Early in high school,” she says, “instead of continuing to straighten and damage my hair to look like other girls, I decided to stick with my natural curl pattern.” From then on, she says, “I was motivated to surround myself with people who really appreciated me as a confident black woman.”
As Ahria’s confidence grew, she began to make her voice heard by stepping into more leadership positions. She became president of Boston Latin Academy student government, joined the student ambassadors program, and started to serve as vice president of the Boston Student Advisory Council, an organization that encourages students to take part in advocacy and leadership.
“Now I advocate for what I want and speak up about things I feel are unjust,” Ahria says. “I’ve learned that I matter, and won’t allow other people to disrespect me. I surround myself with people who support me, and I do the same thing for them.”
Running track was another confidence booster for Ahria, and an outlet that helped her “balance my physical energy and my mental output.”
“I regularly need to be doing something physically rigorous,” she says, “so that when I return home I can go to bed and sleep.”
During her senior year, Ahria discovered the Scholar Athletes Zone at Boston Latin Academy, one of 24 across the state in Boston, Everett, and Springfield designed to help young people reach academic success through athletics. The Zone not only offered her a quiet space to study, but also helped her through the college admissions and scholarship application processes. She submitted all her applications before year’s end of 2018. From there, the waiting game began.
Michael, 18, from West Roxbury, says it was his skill level and seniority that got him chosen as co-captain of Boston Latin Academy’s track team during senior year. But when his coaches tapped him to be captain of the school’s soccer team, he gives most of the credit to his voice. As soccer captain, he says, it was “my job to uplift everyone and keep everyone accountable through consistent motivation.”
Freshman year, long before he started coaching his teammates, Michael recognized that he could improve himself in other areas.
“I knew I had a hard time staying focused,” he says, “ and I knew that would hurt me down the road.” So he decided to make an effort to “be a better representation of who I wanted to be; who I could be,” he says.
Joining the Scholar Athletes program as a sophomore helped Michael on his road to self improvement. At first, he didn’t fully appreciate his mentors pushing him and giving him strict deadlines. But as time went on, he learned the value of accountability and hard work. He began earning marks as a top performing student, and before long was leading by example, mentoring younger students.
“Knowing how hard it was for me to concentrate when I was younger, I’ve done my best to instill in others the importance of doing homework, writing essays early, talking to teachers, following a strict schedule, and being driven,” he says.
In Michael’s junior year, the Palumbo family experienced a tragic loss that upset Michael’s progress. “It felt like I had so much going on,” he says. “My grades tanked, and there were times I thought, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna go to college.’”
During the most difficult times, Michael would ask himself, “How am I going to do this?” But through it all, thanks to mentorship, his passion for sports, and pure will, he pushed on. “Challenging yourself to persevere is the best thing that anyone can learn,” he says. “Doing your best when you’re feeling your worst shows you what you’re truly capable of.”
Using the Scholar Athletes Zone as a refuge, Michael kept himself accountable through his senior year, got his grades back on track, and applied to colleges, setting his sights on how and where he wanted to spend his next four years.
“It wasn’t a flip of a switch,” he says, about his personal growth through high school, “but every day I tried harder to be a better student, a better athlete, and an overall better person.”
Ahria applied to a careful selection of schools, and after all the letters came back, she gained an important understanding.
“The schools that accepted me—and in some cases to the honors program—recognize how much hard work I put in throughout high school,” she says, “and that validation of my potential means a lot to me.”
In the fall, Ahria will be kicking off her college journey at Suffolk University in Boston. True to her character, she’s already directing her future. “I want to study civil rights law, open my own practice, and hopefully pass it down to my children,” she says. “I’m so ready to get started.”
When Michael was sending out his college applications this past school year, he says, “I felt the true weight of everything I had done up to that point and realized there was an admirable accumulation of work to look back on.”
Michael will be attending Lasell College in Auburndale, MA, where he’ll be studying finance and sports management, as well as playing soccer. “I don’t have an exact idea of what I want to be, yet,” he says, but he’s well aware that no matter where he ends, success is what’s earned along the way.
“To me, success is making sure I’m representing myself as the best version of me that I can be for others and my community,” he says. “Becoming that person is the journey I’m most excited to take.”
Sponsored by Scholar Athletes
After a decade, Scholar Athletes and its student achievers are still reaching new heights
Achievement comes in many forms, but comes down to one thing: the willingness to work hard. That’s what Scholar Athletes has been working to instill in local students across Boston, Everett, and Springfield for over ten years.
College ready, life ready
This program works with students for four years to help them develop their best college applications and their best selves.
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