A program pairing low-income, first-generation college students who are Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 alumni with mentors to help them through their higher education celebrated its first graduates at a dinner Thursday night at Palatine High School.
Eight of the original 30 students in the Excel Beyond 211 program -- 27 percent -- received their college degrees within four years, organization President and former District 211 Superintendent Nancy Robb said.
That far exceeds the national average for this demographic of college students, in which just 11 percent graduate in six years, she said.
The new graduates are now eligible to be mentors themselves for future college students with similar backgrounds.
One thing Robb emphasized was that while Excel Beyond 211 has so far provided 117 students with mentors, a total of $121,000 in scholarships and $13,000 in support funding, it still hasn't made the college experience easy for them.
"I think even with the strongest of mentors, students struggle financially," she said. "College is very, very expensive. Many of our students are working two jobs in addition to their academics."
Excel Beyond 211 is entirely separate from District 211 and privately funded by donations and grants.
But it was current District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates who delivered the keynote address at this first celebratory dinner. He, too, came from a low-income family and was a member of its first generation to attend college.
"Tonight, I hope to offer a couple simple take-aways," he said. "The most important and most valuable aspects of life are not what you see on the outside. The truly most important parts of life are on the inside. If there is one single most important take-away tonight, this is it: Life is an inside job."
His second tip was that even if some aspects of one's life break down, one's spirit should never be among them.
"Today we call it grit; I like to call it resilience," Cates said. "The difference between those who make it through tough circumstances and those who don't all comes down to three things: The presence of at least one caring adult, access to opportunities, high expectations."
Robb said another 30 recent District 211 graduates are about to embark on their own college experiences during the program's fifth year.