This year’s Torch Scholars are an impressive group. The 10 students who compose the program’s seventh graduating class have completed 4,300 hours of community service, studied in eight countries and traveled to 12 others, and compiled an average GPA of 3.0.
Now in its 11th year, the program supports talented, first-generation college students who exhibit potential in nontraditional ways.
“We have a lot to celebrate,” said one of the program’s founders, Philomena Mantella, senior vice president and CEO of Northeastern’s Professional Advancement Network.
And celebrate they did.
Students, faculty, and staff, as well as program donors and Torch alumni, filled Raytheon Amphitheater on Thursday to applaud the myriad accomplishments of this diverse group of students.
“To my fellow Torchies, it is remarkable to think that our five years together at Northeastern are coming to an end tomorrow, when we all attend the Commencement ceremony,” said Torch Scholar Milenis Cevalo-Pimentel, SSH’17, who emceed the event. “Our journey has been full of twists and turns, marked by countless challenges and successes in all aspects of our lives.”
Overcoming challenges, though, was nothing unfamiliar to Cevalo-Pimentel nor any of the Torch Scholars, whose ranks this year include Alec Rodriguez, Ajah Perkins, Ivana Arellano, Greykia Harris, Bolanle Akinsulire, Sangjukta Sen Roy, Nicole Miller, Ricardo Ortis, and Desmond Gray, DMSB’17.
Cevalo-Pimentel explained how, growing up, college represented “a distant dream that seemed impossible to achieve.” But it was a dream she pursued in order to be a better role model for her younger sister, she said, becoming visibly emotional.
Looking back now, Cevalo-Pimentel said, “I never thought that I would go to the places I have been and do the things I have done in college,” including studying abroad in Morocco and Spain and working with heart and lung surgeons on co-op in Cape Town, South Africa.
Gray, the student speaker Thursday, said he found himself facing seemingly insurmountable challenges in high school and throughout his early life in Newark, New Jersey. He noted that he constantly battled self-doubt despite his growing success, but found his confidence at Northeastern.
“It would be arrogant to say that I no longer doubt myself, but every challenge I have faced has provided me with the strength and resilience to be able to tackle the obstacles I will face in life,” Gray said. The economics and business finance major studied in Bali, France, and Morocco during his time at Northeastern, as well as completed co-ops at Putnam Investments and State Street Global Advisors.
“I will take these lessons with me as I begin my career at IBM this June. I have stopped questioning myself, and started valuing the opportunities that I have been given to prove my strength in challenging situations.”
State Rep. Chynah Tyler, herself a Torch Scholar alumna, echoed Gray, encouraging this year’s scholars to take advantage of every opportunity that arises.
Her time at Northeastern included a co-op at the Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court, an experience that stoked her passion for creating solutions to recidivism. Tyler, SSH’12, served as a legislative aide and was working in the corporate world when she saw a sliver of opportunity to run for office. “So, I ran,” she said. And she won.
“A small token of advice for you Torch Scholars: You now have all tools you need to be great, and when opportunity arises to push the limits of your success, take it,” Tyler said.
Denise DiCenso, a Torch donor who was the first female pastoral associate at St. Paul’s Parish in Hingham, Massachusetts, encouraged the scholars to be open to unexpected opportunities. “Life unfolds in the present moment,” she said. “Don’t miss it by spending so much time anticipating what your future could be or being caught up with a story from the past.”