On June 16, City Year Philadelphia closed another service year chapter. 200 City Year AmeriCorps members concluded their year of service in Philadelphia schools with a graduation ceremony. The red jacket-wearing graduates will head off to further their education, join the workforce or continue their service. Despite many AmeriCorps members moving on to other endeavors, graduation keynote speaker and fellow corps member, Ben Rowles (Pictured below) told his peers they have a responsibility to tell others about their experience. Below is an excerpt from his powerful address.

“While some members of my suburban community were excited that I would be working with at risk kids, others were less enthusiastic. One person told me that my efforts to make a difference would be ‘futile.’ Another informed me that, ‘those kids,’ are beyond help. These and other comments like them were made, I am reasonably certain, without ever having interacted with a student at a high poverty, urban school.

As people who have had the opportunity to work with students in urban schools, we have a responsibility to represent them and their situations fairly when we talk about our City Year. To acknowledge not only the challenges our students face, but also their successes. It can be tempting when telling our stories to focus on the challenges — on the insufficient funding for schools, or on the poverty, gang violence, and other issues that affect our students’ communities.

But our students should not be seen as victims. The challenges they face are real, but people need to know that they are strong, and that if given the opportunity, they can and they will succeed.

So after our City Year, we need to talk about the group of students who placed top ten in the science fair. About the student who used to hate math, but who worked hard to improve his grade because he knew it was important. About the girl who had been nervous presenting in front of her peers, but who showed confidence when she spoke in front of a crowd at our Idealist Dinner.

Those are some of my stories, and I will share them to show the world that all students want and deserve a quality education.

We may not be around to see our students’ graduations, but we can continue to advocate for them after our City Year. Hold on to your stories. Treasure them. Share them.”


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