After years of hard work – including more than 1,500 hours of after school and summer classes, extra homework, and constant dedication to their studies – the College Success Academy’s second class of Scholars and their families celebrated their hard work and accomplishments at the CSA commencement ceremony on Friday, June 3.

Highlights of the ceremony included Scholar speeches by Class 2 Scholar Nariah Richardson, who spoke to the crowd about her CSA experience, and Class 3 Scholar Kausu Sillah, who wished the graduates the best of luck as they head off to high school this fall.

The keynote speaker was Sarah Rice, a Boston native who has taught at both CSA and The Steppingstone Academy. Rice encouraged Scholars to work hard and to celebrate what makes them unique.

As a gift to the commencing Scholars, CSA staff presented a slideshow filled with pictures and videos from their time together.

Congratulations, Scholars! We can’t wait to keep working with you through high school, college, and beyond!

Enjoy these photos from the event and the full text of the Scholars’ speeches!

None of this would be possible without the dedication and support of CSA families. We are so pleased to have walked this journey with you. Know that this is as much a celebration of you as it is of the Scholars. -Chris Parris, Director of CSA

You inspire me and have shown the kind of potential I knew you always had. The journey isn’t over, but Steppingstone will continue to walk with you until you reach your dream of college. Work hard and do good in this world. -Katarina Ng, CSA Program Associate

The following is commencing Scholar Nariah Richardson’s speech. Nariah attended the Jackson/Mann K-8 School and will attend New Mission High School this fall.

Here is a question that I am always asked: “Why do you go to CSA? You basically have no summer.” My response will always be, “Because I want to. It’s a great program.” Now here’s something you all don’t really know: I wasn’t forced to be here. I chose to come here myself in the fourth grade. You know why I chose to? I came here because I knew I was struggling in school and I didn’t want to be in that position anymore. I said, “Mommy! I want to go to College Success Academy.” And I showed her the paper and she said, “Why? Are you sure you want to do this? You won’t be able to go to camp.” And I said, “Mommy, I am sure.”

So then, I started my first summer. But then I struggled more than I struggled in school. That was a bummer. I struggled until the summer before school started in 6th grade. Once I hit the 6th grade, I began to grow in my reading and vocabulary skills and my math skills. And last year I literally told my mom, “Mommy, if it wasn’t for CSA, I don’t think I would be where I am now.” And my mom just looked at me and smiled.

I didn’t realize how much CSA really meant to me until the 7th grade. Who knew the decisions I made in 4th grade would play a very big role in my life? I realized why the whole staff pushed me so hard. It wasn’t to annoy me; it was to get me to where I am now. Through my CSA journey, I’ve learned a lot, met some of the greatest people in my life, and made some great friends who won’t be forgotten. The one thing I won’t forget would be the Thompson Island trip. It was awesome.

I can’t believe it. It’s already over. I didn’t how soon this would end for me cause it feels like it was just yesterday that I started this program. I will really miss each and every one of you who are sitting in front of me. Thanks for this awesome experience. I LOVE YOU ALL VERY MUCH. Please stay in touch with me and I’ll see you all soon.

Below is Kausu Sillah’s speech. Kausu is a rising eighth-grader at the Thomas Edison K-8 School.

Good afternoon, Steppingstone community. Today I am honored to talk on behalf of Class 3. Welcome to the 2016 College Success Academy commencement.

When I first met Class 2, I was little shy and didn’t talk to them because I thought they were going to be mean people. But then, I took a deep breath and walked over and asked if I could play. Now, I actually know that they are wonderful, caring people that I want to play basketball with.

Now that Class 3 Scholars are the oldest, we are following in the footprints that Class 2 left behind. Some goals for our class: number one, show respect. We have younger Scholars looking up to us, so it’s important for us to be respectful. And second, show kindness. You can’t get anywhere without it, because you get what you give.

Congratulations, Class 2, for working your way to your goals. One piece of advice: keep your heads up. On behalf of Class 3, I want to wish you good luck in high school! So now at this time, Class 3 please rise, because it’s our duty to lead younger Scholars.