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Luncheon celebrates Baltimore students headed to college

The 27th annual CollegeBound Foundation scholars’ luncheon was the organization’s biggest celebration yet of Baltimore City students headed to college in the fall.

CollegeBound operates in Baltimore City’s public high schools, encouraging students to consider post-secondary education and offering assistance with college and financial aid applications as well as more than $1.5 million in annual scholarships and “last-dollar” grants.

Around 900 people, including 150 college-bound students and their families, were in attendance Thursday, which the event’s organizers and speakers billed as a refreshing change in the characterization of the city’s youth since April’s riots.

Cassie Montz, CollegeBound’s executive director, was excited about the event and its high turnout, especially given the recent negative light in which many of the city’s young people have been cast.

“I think that there’s a lot of good in Baltimore,” Montz said, “and there are so many students who are doing well and headed to college and headed to successful careers, and I think it’s good that we have a day to highlight that.”

The luncheon’s first speaker was Broderick Johnson, an assistant to President Barack Obama and Cabinet secretary as well as chair of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, created last year by the president to help young men of color. Johnson is a Baltimore native and spoke about the various opportunities opened up to young people by continuing with their academic careers.

“You young folks here have taken a first step. You’ve worked hard; you’ve graduated from high school. Some of you have already started college, but all of you have been accepted to college. This is just the beginning for you,” Johnson said.

“We need you all to go to college and we need you to graduate from college,” he added. “We need you to study hard, stay in school, go to graduate school, start a business, get one of those millions of STEM jobs that may go unfilled and become the next doctor, scientist, engineer, entrepreneur, president. Save lives and change the course of history.”

Speakers following Johnson reiterated the message about education opening up opportunities, especially for teens in the city who might otherwise struggle.

Dante Daniels from Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School was the winner of the foundation’s Scholar of the Year award. Daniels could not attend the luncheon because he has already enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy, but in a video message he spoke about how education can serve as a springboard for young people to exceed limiting expectations.

As a black male growing up in Baltimore City, Daniels said, he “faced adversity, financial hardships and racial profiling.”

“There are so many stereotypes that we’re expected to have seen: high school dropout, gang member or something far worse,” Daniels said. “Now, I’ve seen many of my peers fall into these stereotypes. Many have felt that there’s no way out. But if you’re getting your education, if you read, you learn to break free.”

Of the $100 the luncheon’s guests paid to attend, $72 go toward programs and scholarships for the youth served by the CollegeBound Foundation, a spokesperson said. And even while still mingling with this year’s guests, Montz said she’s already excited for this day next year.

“We’re actively planning for the next school year and looking forward to congratulating the class of 2016 next year — we like to think of them as the class of 2020 for college,” she said.