Leadership Scholarship Celebrates 11 Years of Dreaming Big for Harvard Kent Kids

By Seth Daniel

Calling it the best public-private partnership in the Boston Public Schools, Mayor Martin Walsh joined the 11th Annual Harvard Kent Leadership Scholarship Awards on Thursday, June 2, and told the group of youngsters that he had wanted to be mayor since eighth grade – and though he went off track for a time – he persevered and is now living his dream.

Those inspirational comments were just a portion of an overall inspirational event where five new Leadership Scholars were announced and five returning Leadership Scholars came back to accept their awards before heading off to college.

“This is one of the best partnerships in our public school system and we need to talk about it more,” he said. “I love the signs here in the room. I especially love the one that says, ‘Every good dream begins with a dreamer.’…When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be the mayor of Boston. I said, ‘OK, to do that I’m going to go to college.’ But when I got to high school a few things happened and I got off the college path. I was able though to get back on track and go to college  and I actually ended up becoming mayor of Boston – my dream. Over time your dreams might change and that’s ok, but it’s a matter of being on the right path.”

Certainly the path has been set for the Scholars, as Principal Jason Gallagher announced the six new youngsters into the program (each year two students from grades 3-5 are chosen) and their fellow students and families cheered them on. The tension in the room was very high due to the fact that no one in the student population knew who was going to be picked. In the end, the following students were chosen:

  • Nikki Tsui, 3rd Grade
  • Andy Munoz Cajano, 3rd Grade
  • Danisha Guerrero, 4th Grade
  • Jonathan Wu, 4th Grade
  • Kelly Zhang, 5th Grade
  • Youssef Jorchi, 5th Grade

Principal Gallagher explained that the scholarship was the brainchild of Charlestown community member Petie Hilsinger, who wanted to help the kids at the Harvard Kent to be able to set an early goal for college. It has been enormously successful, and starting last year, began celebrating Scholars who had graduated high school and come back to announce their college choice.

“For the last 11 years, the support that Petie Hilsinger has given us with her dream is amazing,” said Gallagher. “The Leadership Scholarship program has given 66 scholarships, and that’s amazing.”

Those returning this year to accept their scholarships after graduating high school were:

  • Carly Cahill (UMass-Dartmouth)
  • Octavia Jones (Fisher College)
  • Wenhao Jiang (UMass-Amherst)
  • Tuen Tung Lee (UMass-Amherst)
  • Sabrina Mohamed (Salem State)
  • Anthony Veras (UMass-Amherst)

City Councilor Sal LaMattina also shared his college story, noting that he was the first in his large Italian American family to aspire to college.

“My mother had to quit school at 16 to support the family,” he said. “When I was at East Boston High School, I wanted to go to college and I wanted to go to Suffolk University. I was going to be the first in my family to go to college. However, I listened to my coach at EBHS who said I should look at UMass Amherst. I went out there and was blown away and wowed by it. I went to UMass Amherst and it changed my life. That only happened because I listened to my teachers and my coach.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan encouraged the kids (and entertained the adults) by breaking into song – singing a few lines from Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.’ When the laughter had died down, he told them that they are the future of Charlestown and of Boston and focusing on their education and on getting to college could change the course of Boston.

“The mayor has an initiative to plan for 2030,” he said. “We can start that effort, but you guars are the ones to finish it…You are the future engineers, future mayors, future city councilors and future state representatives.”

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