Bridge Program celebrates success of its students during 36th Annual Award Recognition Ceremony

by | Mar 7, 2022

More than 270 students, including 53 seniors, took part in the Bridge Program's Saturday Academy.
Ritenour senior Charles Farris and Nerinx Hall senior Lauren Simpkins

Ritenour senior Charles Farris (at left) and Nerinx Hall senior Lauren Simpkins served as co-hosts of the Bridge Program Saturday Academy’s 36th Annual Award Recognition Ceremony. (Screenshots)

The University of Missouri–St. Louis Bridge Program marked the end of another successful year providing quality precollegiate programming to students from across the region with its Express Scripts Saturday Academy.

Participants and their family members gathered virtually Saturday morning to celebrate their achievements during the 36th Annual Award Recognition Ceremony, which streamed on YouTube.

Nerinx Hall High School senior Lauren Simpkins was among the 272 students, including 53 seniors, to complete the Saturday Academy.

“The Bridge Program has helped me become a more independent thinker and gain a better understanding of what works best for me in a collegiate environment,” said Simpkins, who served as co-host for the event. “Bridge has empowered me to realize that not only was I capable of attending the school of my choice but establishing a plan to get there. Lastly, Bridge has educated me on what it takes to achieve my dream of becoming a lawyer.”

Charles Farris, a senior at Ritenour High School and Simpkins’ co-host, had similar praise for his experience in Bridge.

“Bridge showed me how to select a college that would be the right fit for me and how to research and apply for scholarship opportunities,” Farris said. “My biggest takeaway from the Bridge program is the confidence I have gained from my participation. Before Bridge, I was completely lost in the college navigation process. After four years, I am now confident that I’m taking the right steps to work toward reaching my future academic and career goals.”

Lafayette High School senior Zakee Branch delivers keynote address

Lafayette High School senior Zakee Branch shared memories of his time in the Bridge Program’s Saturday Academy.

Bridge has been helping high school students prepare for college success since 1986. It provides academic enrichment courses in mathematics, science and written and oral communication, as well as personal and professional development and college planning through its Saturday Academy.

Students in the program come from a wide range of academic backgrounds – public schools, private schools and homeschooled – and they include people from every racial, ethnic and socioeconomic group.

Since 2003, 100% of students who have completed the Bridge Program have matriculated to college.

Members of this year’s senior class have been admitted to more than 120 colleges and universities and other institutions of higher education nationwide. Seventy percent of them have received two or more scholarship offers with 15 percent receiving full-tuition scholarship offers. Combined, the senior class has been offered $3 million and counting in scholarship support from institutions nationwide.

“Besides the never-ending friendships I’ve made in this program, the most important thing is drive and staying engaged,” said Lafayette High School student Zakee Branch, who delivered the student keynote. “Bridge staff working very hard to prepare you for the steps ahead. All the teachers that I’ve had during this program have been phenomenal with the curriculum.

LIFE Arts Inc. Executive Director Darius Williams delivers keynote address

LIFE Arts Inc. Executive Director Darius Williams delivered the keynote address during the Bridge Program Saturday Academy’s 36th Annual Award Recognition Ceremony.

“This program isn’t a joke. You are taking courses that will benefit you in life. I learned so many things like how to build a resume, how to make a solar cooker. I even learned how to do geometry going into my sophomore year, which really helped me out a lot. Bridge shapes you into becoming the person that you want to be. Without Bridge, I would not have had the chances that I have right now.”

The students received a congratulatory message from Susan Stith, the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, civic affairs and the foundation at Cigna, the parent-company of longtime Saturday Academy sponsor Express Scripts.

Darius Williams, the executive director of LIFE Arts Inc., delivered the keynote address.

“Every lesson that you learn from this program, every committed connection that you have with your mentors, as you go into college and discover those core principles and you find new leaders, new friends to follow, your new people, I encourage you, just as my mentors did, to lay your foundation,” Williams said. “Live first with your purpose in mind. And I say this because the storms will come, and what you’re going to build is going to be tested. I say this because I want your legacies to stand the test of time. Class of 2022, lay your foundation, and then go on and build that something incredible.”


Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

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