Adapted from an article originally published September 23, 2008.
Every now and then, I’m lucky enough to get to see the impact of philanthropy firsthand, and to be reminded of exactly why we do what we do and how we impact those we serve.
In June 2008 I had the good fortune to be the keynote speaker at the NuView Bridge Early College High School graduation ceremonies in Moreno Valley. This school is located off the beaten path, more than an hour east of the Ontario airport in a town called Nuevo. This ECHS was formed through a partnership between the charter school and Riverside Community College’s Moreno Valley campus (now known as Moreno Valley College), and was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Early College High Schools Initiative.
As I stood in the back of the auditorium awaiting the start of the graduation ceremonies, I was struck by the tone of the event that was unfolding. All the school faculty and staff were in full academic regalia, and I had been asked to wear my robe and hood as well. At the front of the auditorium, a slide show was playing with photos of every one of the approximately 60 graduating seniors. The school’s principal started telling me the backstory on each student as their photo appeared. She knew not only names and faces but also details of their lives, their families, and the challenges they faced in getting to graduation day. Parents in jail, drugs, catastrophic auto accidents, being shuffled from home to home. The things these young people had experienced by ages 17 or 18 were more than any of us should have to bear, yet here they were, graduating from high school well on their way toward college degrees. In fact, one student graduated from Riverside Community College with an associate’s degree that very same week and entered UC Berkeley as a junior that fall at just 18 years of age.
Before the ceremonies, the principal told me about a fundraising drive this class had started. The goal was to raise $9,000 to launch an eight-man football program. This senior class had adopted the cause and helped raise more than $6,000 over the course of the school year. A class of 60 students, many from broken homes and difficult backgrounds, in a town with very little resources, had raised more than $6,000 to start a sports team that none of them would ever get to play on. This is the ultimate form of philanthropy, and it shows an uncommon maturity in this group of young people.
As a part of my remarks, I told the audience that the Foundation for California Community Colleges, the organization I presided over at the time, would contribute the remaining $3,000 needed to outfit the football team so it could play this fall. I also made clear that this gift was on behalf of these fine graduates. I was taken aback when the auditorium erupted in cheers and tears. Despite having worked in fundraising for many years, I didn’t realize the tremendous impact a seemingly small gift can have on a community.
After the ceremonies, I was approached not once but twice by young men who were still attending NuView. The first approached me, stuck out his hand, called me sir, thanked me profusely for “making his dream come true,” and then hugged me. This young man will be graduating next spring, so this was his last chance at his dream, now his reality. He has worked all year with parents, students, and others to try to get a football program off the ground…a 16-year-old taking a leadership role to raise money, create opportunities, and gain support. He wants to play quarterback, and, judging by his actions, he certainly has the leadership qualities to do so.
The second student was even younger—age 15. He, too, shook my hand and called me sir and thanked me for making their dream of a football program a reality.
“What position do you want to play?” I asked him.
“Anything, sir. I’ll play anywhere. I just want a chance to play.”
He went on to tell me how excited he and his friends were and how much it meant to everyone that this program was going to happen. I reminded him that football is hard work, a year-round commitment, to which he responded, “I’m ready, sir. I’ll do whatever it takes to be on that field.”
They tell me that next year as many as 20 to 25 graduating seniors will be earning their associate’s degrees as they complete high school, and that as many as 20 of this year’s graduates will voluntarily be returning to the high school campus next year to continue working on their degrees through the ECHS program. This school—in Nuevo, California, population 4,135—is a shining example of the goals of the ECHS Initiative that the Gates Foundation has supported nationwide.
This work makes a difference in people’s lives and in communities throughout our state. NuView is a great story—a story of success in the face of adversity for dozens of students, aided by committed and passionate faculty and staff. There are similar stories throughout California and throughout the nation, and seeing them up close is one of the untold rewards of working to support innovative educators and eager students.
Postscript: In just its second year of existence, the NuView Knights football team won a league championship in 2009 with a 7-1 regular season record. In spring 2010 14 of NuView’s 63 graduating seniors earned AA or AS degrees at the same time they graduated from high school, and eight of those 14 earned dual AA/AS degrees. The average GPA for NuView’s graduating class was 3.25, including all college and high school coursework combined. Among the destinations of the 2010 senior class: UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Riverside, the U.S. Naval Academy, Morehouse College, Johnson & Wales University, Cal Poly Pomona, and numerous other four-year colleges and universities, where most entered as juniors or sophomores.
I was honored to speak at four consecutive NuView graduations from 2008 through 2011, and it remains one of the great honors I’ve ever experienced in academia or as a professional.