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Serving Today for a Better Tomorrow

Hello there! My name is Mark Nealon and I am the proud Team Leader this year at Brighton High School, returning for my second year of service with City Year Greater Boston. I want to first thank you for reading, and secondly, thank City Year for allowing me the space to share my story as to why both service and education are so important to me.  

Growing up, I learned a lot about the struggles my grandfather faced when it came to getting a quality education. He never made it past the 8th grade, giving up his schooling to instead support and grow his family by working in the mines of Pennsylvania. Despite being forced to leave school, he never lost his love for education and made sure to pass its importance down to his children.  

Now, this story is not unique, nor is it unfamiliar to millions of people across generations. Throughout history, families have been forced to choose between living a “comfortable life,” more commonly struggling paycheck-to-paycheck, or attending the “brain factory,” as my grandfather would say. And sadly, those stories are not just remnants of our collective history. Today, we still see young people and families make that very same decision. Time has passed, society has moved forward; but quality education and opportunities beyond high school, a key which continues to open countless doors of opportunity for adolescents and young adults alike, remains largely unobtainable. 

So, I serve not only for my mother, my grandfather, and my family. I serve for every young person who ever has to face that choice – past, present or future.

I never got the chance to meet my grandfather as he passed away before I was born. But, I am fortunate enough to have gotten to know his daughter fairly well these last 24 years, albeit by a different name: “Mom.” And despite always seeing myself as just an “average” student in high school, attending academic classes for half the day and receiving vocational training the other, neither of my parents gave up on the idea that someday I would go to college and achieve great things – nor did they let anything stand in the way of cheering me on.  

Cheering me on wasn’t the only thing that helped solidify just how important education was to me.  

My mom went back to school herself before I entered high school, to receive her nursing degree and help support the life she envisioned for me, my brother, and our two older siblings. Looking back, I was incredibly fortunate to have such enthusiastic learners in my life encouraging me to grow; eventually to high school, college, and now City Year! But this reality is not a given – nor is it accessible – for nearly enough students today, in a time when it is needed most.  

So, I serve not only for my mother, my grandfather, and my family. I serve for every young person who ever has to face that choice – past, present or future. I serve to empower our youth and encourage their professional, personal, educational, and emotional growth, so that each and every student can learn to disassemble this generational education divide, as leaders and thinkers of tomorrow.

The world that these empowered leaders and thinkers of tomorrow can create is truly incredible. I’ve been lucky enough to hear, see, and envision that world alongside them in their classes.

It can be a world where each student, regardless of race, gender, economic status, or geographic location, can receive a quality education.

It can be a world where students and families are no longer forced to make impossible decisions with generational impact.

And it’s a world where a better tomorrow is truly possible.

I serve today for a better tomorrow.

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