This is the first year that the Greenpoint YMCA has made such an affair of the graduation ceremony, and the scholars showed up in full style, with dresses, heels, suits and ties.
The Y Scholars program prepares students in grades nine through 12 for college and work through after-school workshops and one-on-one case management. About 100 students participate in the program, with 62 kids making up the junior and senior classes.
This year, 95 percent of seniors in the program will be entering college in the fall.
“A lot of them when they started our program didn’t know how to get into college, didn’t know the process, didn’t know if they could even make it into college,” Teen and Sports Director Florentina Weiss said.
“And then through the college process, all the workshops we’ve done in regards to financial aid or just understanding the difference between the CUNY process and a private school, they really started to grow and realize that college is something that they can really achieve,” she added.
The keynote speaker for the ceremony was La-Asia Hundley, who is both a member of the board for the Greenpoint YMCA and a successful businesswoman at Con Edison.
“I really value community service and giving back to our youth, and I think that passion of mine and the YMCA is kind of a perfect match,” Hundley said.
In her speech, Hundley talked to students about “believing in your dreams and pursuing your dreams despite challenges.” She also discussed giving back to the community and embracing change.
“You have to acknowledge that you’re going to be afraid at times, and that fear is really part of your journey and growing up,” she said. “But the key to being afraid is just not to get stuck.”
Awards were then given to students for attendance, improvement, spirit, leadership, civic engagement and more.
Senior Tatyana Spence received the Executive Director Award, the highest commendation given by the YMCA. She spoke fondly of her time in the Y Scholars program, saying it opened a lot of doors for her.
“I learned a lot,” said Spence, who will be attending SUNY Plattsburgh in the fall. “I was able to do a lot of programs, got a lot of work experience, work on public speaking. I learned a lot from others, and I met new friends.”
She encouraged her classmates to take advantage of all that the Y has to offer.
“Keep the Y in your corner, because they will definitely help you,” Spence said. “You have a place you can call and have someone to give you advice.”
Jenaya Pugh, a senior in the program, spoke about the opportunities for college assistance and employment that the YMCA provided for her.
“I love the YMCA and I came to love the staff members as well,” Pugh said in a testimonial. “If it wasn’t for the YMCA, I would not know how my high school years would have turned out. I am thankful and very much grateful for the YMCA. It literally changed my life.”