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NSO Through Ms. Aubrey’s Eyes

I’ve always loved The First Day of School. Everything about it excites me in the most awesomely beautiful way. As a young student, I loved going to Walmart with my mom and sister to pick out brand new school supplies. In the days leading up, I would spend hours organizing my pencil box and backpack, eager to put them to use. I would even try on several outfits to make sure I had the perfect back-to-school outfit. And I looked forward to seeing my friends, meeting new people, and learning new things.  

 When I became a teacher, the first day of school continued to have significant meaning. It was up to me to set the tone for the entire year. During the summer, I would think non-stop about how I wanted to not just create a welcoming classroom, but instill a passion for learning, a love of reading, and a sense of belonging. I still thoughtfully prepared my first day outfit, but instead of buying school supplies for myself, I now shopped for 10 cent spiral notebooks in bulk, collected pens/pencils from anywhere and everywhere, and searched used bookstores for popular young adult lit that I could add to my classroom. When I became principal, I would spend months preparing for the first day. Now, at Chicago Scholars, my first day of school is New Scholar Orientation. And what a first day it was! 

 As my colleague Kim and I walked 550 Scholars of the Class of 2028 and their families over to the auditorium on Loyola University’s campus, I could feel the air buzzing with anticipation. The nervous, yet eager faces, each representing a unique story and journey, began to fill the room. The energy was electric, as if the very atmosphere swelled with the promise of transformative possibilities. I couldn’t help but be swept away by the infectious spirit.  

 One of the things that struck me most was the unspoken sense of unity and shared purpose. Scholars from various backgrounds, neighborhoods, and experiences all gathered together, united by a common goal: to break barriers and create a better future for themselves and their communities. The room itself radiated with the belief that these Scholars were destined for greatness. 

 I had the privilege of connecting with a Scholar named Janeth who is an optimistic, self-taught artist with a passion for literature who dreams of becoming the first person in her family to graduate college. I met Scholar Gabriel, an emergent filmmaker, who I discovered has a talent for storytelling who will one day be a Hollywood director and producer. (Honestly, I saw his movies on Youtube and this Scholar will be a household name in the future.). I talked with Scholar Ahmed, a brilliant student with a heart of gold, who immigrated from Morocco and is already engaged in scientific research towards gene therapy with the hopes of identifying genes that could be edited to cure diseases.  I spoke with Scholar Aniyah, a hardworking student with a part-time job with the White Sox who maintains a high GPA at her school on the south side of the city. When Aniyah described her love of gaming and how she wants to design her own video games in college, I believed she could and that she will. 

 Among the many memorable moments, one stood out as a testament to the incredible strength of empowerment and the sense of belonging. A panel of successful Chicago Scholars alumni took the stage, sharing their personal triumphs, struggles, and the impact they have made since their own days as Scholars. The stories they shared were not just tales of individual success; they were testaments to the transformative power of education and the ripple effect it has on communities. CS Staff member and alumnus Ja’Qwan Hoskins wowed everyone when he shared that he graduated debt free with no student loans. Another CS Staff member and alumna Stephanie Rosado shared a beautiful tribute to her parents and her culture. It was a reminder that every Scholar in that room had the potential to create a lasting impact within their family, neighborhood, and city. 

 Amid all the activities, workshops, and get-to-know-you conversations, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for organizations like Chicago Scholars that invest in the limitless potential of these young minds. Gratitude for the unwavering dedication of parents, mentors, counselors, and educators who provide guidance and support. But most importantly, gratitude for the Scholars themselves, who dare to dream big and believe that they have the power to shape a brighter future. 

 After we packed my car, marking the end of the day, I started the commute home with my colleagues Kevin and Miguel. Exhausted after a long day, but filled with indescribable joy, we reflected with one another on the ride home. We shared moments of inspiration with one another and our hopes for the Class of 2028 Scholars. In that moment, I knew that my role as Associate Director of College Counseling and Family Engagement was so much more than just simply helping a student get into college. It was about nurturing dreams, building resilience, and creating a community of change-makers. 

Chicago Scholars, mark my words: these students, these bright minds, are going to change the entire city of Chicago. They will be the ones who create innovative solutions, lead with compassion, and shatter barriers that have held society back for far too long. And I can’t wait to see it happen. They will manifest change and I am here for it.