Most of the members of the largest New Haven Promise cohort yet — 191 in all — discovered a recurring theme at the high-energy fourth annual Scholar Celebration Thursday night at the Omni New Haven Hotel: “We want you back.”
Mayor Toni Harp took the opportunity to challenge New Haven’s business community to take advantage of the unique investment of Promise, which makes college affordable for City students who meet qualifying measures of grades, attendance, service, residency and enrollment.
“Our collective job here in the Elm City is to work with our employers to ensure that you — those who were raised here by families who invested in the City and its schools — will have a place in our dynamic workforce,” she said.
That message was reinforced by New Haven Promise Executive Director Patricia Melton, CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven Will Ginsberg, Yale President Peter Salovey and New Haven Promise Scholars Priscilla Maldonado and Michael Bruno.
Maldonado — the first Promise Scholar to graduate from a four-year institution — received two significant honors before closing the event with her remarks. First, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal presented Priscilla Maldonado with a “bi-partisan commendation” as the first Promise graduate on behalf of the U.S. Senate.
She also received the first Promise Legacy Award, which will be awarded each year to a Promise graduate whose academic distinction and dedication to both Promise and the City of New Haven stand out.
Maldonado graduated from Quinnipiac University in May, just three years after graduating from Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven. She was selected to participate in the University of New Haven’s Outstanding High School Senior Program, which allowed her to finish a semester early at Career and begin taking courses at UNH. Having also taken dual-credit courses at Gateway Community College, Maldonado began a year ahead of her peers at Quinnipiac.
This fall she will begin pursuit of a master’s degree in social work at Southern Connecticut State University while interning at the Metropolitan Business Academy. She credits New Haven Promise with her choice to stay in the Elm City for both undergraduate and graduate work.
“I originally wanted to leave the state and move to the South,” she said. “Promise gave me a 180-degree look at it. Now I have a sense of pride in New Haven … Promise checked in on me and gave me that extra push to succeed. Over time that grew into them pushing me to translate my degree into networking and connections in the city. I am a product of New Haven Promise and I am here because of it. They show pride in all their scholars. It puts a sense of pride in me, and I’m sure it does for everyone.”
In all, 155 of the 191 recipients participated in the celebration, which began with individual introductions which resembled festivities typically reserved for sporting events. The audience — 650 strong — filled the ballroom with cheers for each entrance.
Four of the school cohorts were led by newly-minted “Ambassadors,” current Promise Scholars who will be dedicated to creating community and increasing dialogue between the Scholars and Promise officials alike. Students from the four pilot schools — the University of Connecticut, Gateway Community College, Southern Connecticut State University and Yale University — arrived two hours before the start of the program to meet with the Ambassadors and participate in team-building exercises. Melton said that the program would expand to many other in-state campuses in the fall of 2015.
Prior to the Scholar Procession, President Salovey and Sen. Blumenthal left the ballroom to join the students who were lined up for introductions in the lobby. Their joy was evident as they shook hands, encouraged the students and posed for photos.
Once inside, the students were treated to advice and wisdom from both men as well as Ginsberg, Melton, Maldonado, Bruno, Mayor Harp, state Sen. Martin M. Looney, NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries and Gateway President Dr. Dorsey Kendrick.
Melton pointed to an info graphic published in the evening’s program which showed that college graduates will earn nearly $1 million more in a lifetime than those who don’t earn a higher education degree. “Don’t let a lack of discipline cost you that $1 million,” she advised.
“Your great journey is about to begin,” she added. “Promise — and the whole City of New Haven — will be cheering you to the finish line and beyond.”