Mary Espinosa is a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a former Citizen Schools student. This is an adaptation of a speech she gave at the Celebrating Community Collaboration fundraising event in Charlotte, North Carolina. I am honored to be a Citizen Schools alumna. I graduated from the program in 2008, and it was one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences in my educational career. Before joining Citizen Schools in eighth grade, I was unsure of whether I wanted to attend college or not. College seemed like an impossible dream, but going through the Citizen Schools 8th Grade Academy program inspired me to pursue my dreams of a college education.
By attending college visits, I realized that not only was college an achievable feat, but that I was determined to go no matter what. Citizen Schools inspired me to believe in myself and showed me that college was a realistic goal for me -- that I was as deserving of a college education as any other individual. I am proud to say that I am a first generation college-student who just finished my freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where I am majoring in Social Work, so that I too can help young people achieve their goals and encourage them to turn their dreams into reality.
I believe that Citizen Schools is an extremely valuable program and that it is key in ensuring the success of countless students. For me, it helped shape my future. I felt more prepared than many of my peers were when I entered high school. I had developed study techniques from after school homework time, I had learned about the college process from college tours, and my apprenticeships helped me connect what I was learning in the classroom with real world experiences. I learned how to work in a group, how to present and speak publicly thanks to our WOW! presentations, and I started to look into career fields that piqued my interest. Apprenticeships taught me real world values and skills that I use even today, over four years later.
Citizen Schools helped shaped me into who I am today. But, Citizen Schools programming alone was not the only reason why I was -- and continue to be -- so determined to succeed. My Citizen Schools Team Leaders and volunteer Citizen Teachers also played a huge role in that. I was so fortunate to work with these caring adults who never thought twice about encouraging me and supporting me through my educational journey. I want to thank Ms. Lisa, Mr. Angel, and Ms. Melissa for always encouraging me to dream -- and to make those dreams come true. They are the ones that really pushed me and inspired me to continue my education. As a middle schooler getting ready to transition into high school, their tremendous support meant the world to me.
I hope that together as a community, we can continue to inspire students like myself, not only here in Charlotte, but across the nation.
You can join the movement to inspire future leaders like Mary. Learn more about getting involved today.