More than 300 area high school students and their families, all dressed in their Sunday best, filed into a second floor ballroom at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis Saturday morning for the University of Missouri–St. Louis Bridge Program Cigna Saturday Academy’s 37th annual Award Recognition and Closing Ceremony.
There was much to celebrate with the breakfast event back in person for the first time in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though there has been no disruption in the Bridge Program delivering quality precollegiate support and education to students of every background from across the region during that time.
The past year has been no different with high school freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors gathering for extra instruction in mathematics, science and written and oral communication, as well as personal and professional development, two Saturday mornings each month on the UMSL campus.
“I was talking to several families inside the room this morning, and one of the things that was a theme just from this morning’s conversation is, ‘This wasn’t a camp,’” said Natissia Small, UMSL’s vice provost for access, academic support and workforce integration. “No, it wasn’t a camp. It was an experience students are going to rely on for the rest of their lives. Students didn’t realize it was going to be this much work, but I guarantee you, you will be college-ready.”
Small can point to the Bridge Program’s long track record of success when making that pledge. Since 2003, 100 percent of graduates from the Saturday Academy have matriculated to college.
This year, 61 seniors are set to continue that tradition. As Bridge Program Director Channon Peoples told those in attendance, this year’s graduating class combined has been accepted to more than 125 colleges and universities and has received scholarship offers totaling more than $7 million. She added 70% of the students have received two or more scholarship offers and 60% are planning to major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
“I’m here to tell you that every Saturday from October through February those first two Saturdays, these young people embody excellence,” Peoples said. “We are so proud today to send these class of 2023 graduates onto the next phase of their journey. We are proud. We are encouraging you all to embrace this next phase in your life. Find encouragement in your people and in your village, and don’t forget to be excellent.”
“You’re really still figuring out who you are, what your values are, what your beliefs are, and that is OK because this is a process,” Daniel told the seniors.
Daniel talked about the importance of not letting other people define you are or what you choose to care about.
“Don’t let anybody put you in a box,” she said. “Your identity is something that is going to change as you grow.”
Daniel later added: “Hold yourself accountable to your dreams. Let your behavior line up with your goals. If you say you want to graduate, your behavior should show that you want to graduate.”
She spoke about the parties they’ll attend when they’re in college – and the importance of looking out for the safety of themselves and their friends in those settings.
She encouraged them to seek out their advisors and to not be afraid to ask questions of them as well as professors so that they’re taking the most value they can from their education.
As a parent who has sent two sons off to college in the past 10 years, Daniel also had one more bit of guidance: “Call your mother. Call your mother. Call your mother. Call your mama. Call your mother. Don’t text her. Call her. She needs to hear your voice for signs of life. Calling your mother. You better call your mother. Call your mother.”
That elicited laughter from the audience and quite a few nodding heads from all the moms in the room.
The real stars of the morning were the students themselves, including Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School senior Imarion Griffin and Collegiate School of Medicine and Biosciences senior Sasha Green, who served as the master and mistress of ceremonies, and Parkway North High School sophomore Heer Gehani and Ritenour High School senior Kyla Williams, who spoke about their experiences in the Bridge Program and the lessons they learned.
“We often join the program for different reasons, and those reasons may consist of preparing for the ACT, getting ready for college or just trying something new,” Williams said. “Despite your reason why, today, we all can say that we joined and that we made it. Throughout my time in the Bridge Program, I’ve learned how to do things that prepare me for the real world.”
Everything ranging from information about the college application process, financial aid and scholarship, to how to look for, apply and land a job – and put their best into the position.
“I couldn’t imagine my journey through high school without this program,” said Williams, who lined up with her fellow seniors to receive cords commemorating their completion of the program.