Benjamin Disraeli famously said “The youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity”, and the young women that were recipients of the NEHRA scholarships are a testament to the immense potential that youth have to make the world a better place. I left the NEHRA gala feeling inspired by their stories, their passions, poise, and most importantly, by the invaluable work that they have been doing in their communities. At such a young age, each of them has such determination to affect positive change in the world by challenging stigmas, cultural norms, and oppressive systems that are impeding true socio-cultural progress. By advocating for the voiceless and going against the grain, they are making a statement that we can create a new reality in which everyone is represented and respected. Nayleth, Bergeline, and Shandira have taken the adversity that they have faced and used it as a motivational force behind their platforms, raising awareness on stigmas on mental health, racism and colorism, and LGBTQIA+ rights. They are living proof that there is no age too young to get involved and make an impact, and are a reminder that we all have a responsibility to step up and make strides to leave the world better than we found it. Everyone in attendance was moved by their stories as they spoke about the trials and tribulations that they have had to power through in life, exuding wisdom beyond their years.
Nayleth – Recipient of this year’s Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA Blue Beacon Scholarship
Nayleth is currently a senior at Newton South High School and is planning on attending Harvard University in the fall.
Nayleth is a remarkable young woman who has left her mark on the Newton South community as well as in the community of Hyde Park, where she lives. As a METCO student she learned to effectively balance her “two communities” helping to reach across cultural divides. She has been a leader within the school as a member of the South Senate and the Student Advisory Council. She has been recognized for her ability to communicate effectively, receiving several debate and speech awards.
Nayleth’s guidance counselor had this to say about her, “Nayleth is fearless in exploring opportunities. She jumps in to her passions with enthusiasm and energy that is unparalleled. She takes on leadership roles and works well with diverse groups of peers.” Her leadership in school extends to her Boston community where she has led a Youth Community Organizing program at Sociedad Latina, where she helped to engage other youth in workshops on social issues. In her own words she describes the culmination of her summer experience this way, “I was able to inspire others to step out of their comfort zones, with the understanding that we are not defined by others, but that we define ourselves”.
Within the Newton South community, Nayleth has been a leader and facilitator for the Courageous Conversations on Race program. The program is designed to improve race relations at the school by giving students the tools to have civil conversations about race and identity. Most recently she engaged students who were struggling with the concept of white privilege. She was able to share her own experiences as a student of color at the school. But more importantly she was able to listen respectfully to their dialogue and guide it to a better place.
She has discovered that “living in two worlds” has allowed her to more deeply understand who she is and who she will be. “She knows that she is valuable bridge between peoples and cities and cultures.” She ended her essay with an apt quote from Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
Bergeline – Recipient of this year’s Gaucher and Associates Scholarship
Bergeline is currently a senior at Boston Community Leadership Academy and is hoping to attend Georgetown University in the Fall.
Bergeline is an outstanding student and an emerging activist. She can already see herself running for public office – becoming a voice for change and justice. She pursued a role in student government so that she could be a voice for students who have not yet found their voice. She is a born champion and a committed advocate. When the issue of a ban on head scarves came up she jumped into action – she lead a social media campaign; she organized a day of action at the school to demonstrate not only the importance of this issue but to show how students speaking up could make positive change. After discussion with faculty and school administration the policy was changed.
More importantly this effort gave birth to defineBLACK. DefineBLACK’s mission is to embrace our differences but also cherish our similarities. The group has fostered discussion about the cultural variations that exists within the black community. The success of the club was acknowledged when they were invited by school administration to revise the student handbook to better fit the needs of the students.
In the interview process Bergeline described herself as strong, optimistic and funny. She described how she has been able to use humor to educate and confront in a way that is respectful and meaningful. Whether she is confronting the need for an appropriate prayer space for Muslim students or coaching a younger student, Bergeline is a compassionate leader. The school’s headmaster has experienced Bergeline’s commitment to making her school a better place for everyone first hand.. The Headmaster describes her as empathetic, with the ability to step outside of her own life experience and see the needs of others and then advocate for them. Bergeline epitomizes peer leadership;, she can both identify with her peers and still understand the diverse perspectives that can be present.
This quote from her headmaster sums up Bergeline best, “Bergeline will take advantage of every opportunity college will offer – her tenacity dictates it. She will also be an asset to any school or community that honor diverse voices and is committed to cultivating future leaders”.
Shandira – Recipient of this year’s Professional Staffing Group Scholarship
Shandira is currently a senior at Boston Latin Academy and is hoping to attend Pitzer College in Claremont, CA in the Fall.
Shandira is an outstanding student with a passion for learning and social justice. She described herself during the interview as an “over-achiever”, interconnected and Insightful. She is an exceptional student who has maintained her status on the Honor Roll since she enrolled. Her guidance counselor said she improved every year and is the type of student who will rise to any academic challenge. This is also evidenced by her selection and participation in the SCS Noonan Scholars program – a program that supports college bound first generation students, students from low income backgrounds and students of color. She is always committed to doing her absolute best.
In her school community she has consistently demonstrated leadership and a strong commitment to make the school a better place for everyone. She is a member of the student government as a senator as well as being a part of the Greater Boston Regional Student Advisory Council. As an Ambassador in the Ambassadors Club she has helped to ensure that all students feel welcomed and included. As a student intern in WorkSmart she has participated in a Job Readiness Training Workshop and Boston’s Bridge to Excellence.
Another school faculty member said the following; “I am most impressed by her unwavering commitment to social justice and equity. I have watched her grow into a compassionate and humble leader in our community”. She is dedicated to making sure that every voice is heard. Her passion for diversity and inclusion is evident in her commitment to support and advocate for the undocumented students who attend her school. After a particularly cruel and insensitive comment directed at a friend, she worked to create the Student Immigrant Movement Club (SIM Club). The club is designed to create a safe place for students to discuss the complex issues surrounding immigration. She has lead workshops and activities that raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by immigrant students.
As an emerging student leader and activist Shandira has found her voice. In her own words – “now that we have started having real conversations about immigration, LGBTQ rights and education reform I never want to stop. For the first time, I feel I have a voice to share that can defend others and actively influence people’s opinions of immigrant, queer, POC and other minorities, like myself.”
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be in the presence of the inspirational young leaders of tomorrow. Nayleth, Bergeline, and Shandira are so deserving of the support provided by the NEHRA scholarship. Their futures are so bright, and I cannot wait to see the incredible things that they will accomplish. One can only imagine where the world would be if we had more people like them. I gained perspective and insight from these recipients, and I do believe that we all can learn from the coming generations who challenge the status quo, and who take initiative to create the change we all know is needed but that few want to take on.