On May 11, 10 graduating high school seniors from Let’s Get Ready College Access Program took the stage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, for the annual College Decision Day event. They participated alongside 250 peers from 25 local organizations that provide college access services to students from low-income circumstances. The event celebrated months of hard work and preparation, during which the students toiled over standardized tests and college applications, leading up to the moment when they would announce the schools they had chosen to a cheering crowd.
Avery Miller, who will be attending SUNY Geneseo starting in fall 2017, was one of the students who represented Let’s Get Ready. “That was my first time ever speaking into a microphone,” she said. “Sharing my college decision was one of my happiest moments!”
ABC News correspondent Ron Claiborne served as the master of ceremonies for the night, keeping the tone uplifting and informative with jokes and higher education factoids. Keynote speaker Carla Harris, a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley as well as a motivational speaker and author, addressed the crowd with passion. “Her presentation, her motivation, and her advice were such an inspiration,” said Miller, who describes the underlying message of Harris’ talk as a “challenge to continue successfully no matter the path.”
The night also featured musical performances from Rhonda Ross (daughter of Diana Ross), and the Emmy Award-winning ensemble of Vy Higginsen with the Gospel for Teens Choir, which brought Miller’s mother to tears.
A critical component of the evening was the student breakout session, which had the seniors mingling in small groups. “Meeting other students was really great preparation in networking,” said Miller. There was also a parent-to -parent workshop, which Miller’s mother called a “sounding board” for parents to voice their concerns and show support.
Then came the Academic Draft, the main event when seniors announced which colleges they were heading to in the fall. Aside from Miller, Let’s Get Ready students revealed their enrollment at Princeton University, Boston College, St. Francis College, CUNY Hunter, the New York Institute of Technology, CUNY Baruch College, SUNY Buffalo, St. Francis College, SUNY Oswego, and Cornell University.
Organizations participating in the event along with Let’s Get Ready included the Harlem Educational Assistance Fund, Armory College Prep, Bank Street College Liberty Leads, Bottom Line, Boys and Girls Club, Cypress HIills Local Development Corporation, East Harlem Tutorial Program, Henry Street Settlement, Hunts Point Alliance for Children, iMentor, Madison Square Boys & Girls Club, Minds Matter, New Settlement, and the NYC Mission Society.
In sum, the event was an exuberant affirmation that high school students from low-income backgrounds have the potential to overcome any obstacles that stand between them and their college degrees. The significance of the event taking place at the Apollo, a historic venue that has centered people of color since the era of segregation, was not lost on Miller. “We are writing the histories of our neighborhoods and our own families by graduating high school, being the first to go to college, or the first receive a college degree,” she said. “Many of the people involved in the Let’s Get Ready program look like people from our communities and our cultures. The Apollo Theater was the most appropriate venue to display our intellectual and academic talents.”
Miller plans on majoring in Biology at Geneseo. She describes herself as a “future physician and aspiring podiatrist.”
Photos below courtesy of Harlem Education Assistance Fund, Daryl Tillman, Brian Dever, and Ann Yaspan