Northeastern University celebrates this year’s graduating class of Torch Scholars

The Torch Scholars in the Class of 2019 have studied abroad in nine countries, completed more than 6,000 hours of community service, and made lifelong friends at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Jonathan Adorno says that a high school teacher predicted that he would have to overcome a moment of adversity if he wanted to reach his potential. “One day you are going to experience failure, and it is going to crush you, but it won’t define you,” the teacher told him. “You’ve got to get up, brush yourself off, and do better.”

Sure enough, Adorno failed a biology exam in his first semester at Northeastern. He was crushed. He wanted to be a doctor. Failing the exam made him think he didn’t belong at Northeastern.

But he didn’t give up.

He turned to Leroy Jackson Jr., an academic advisor to students in the Torch Scholars Program, which supports talented students who are from diverse backgrounds and among the first in their families to graduate college.

Jackson suggested that he ask tutors to explain how they succeeded in the class and go to office hours every week. Adorno took that advice to heart. He earned a B+ in the course, made the dean’s list, and discovered an interest in research at Northeastern through co-ops at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California.

Torch Scholar Djibril Diabate described how he overcame the challenges of growing up poor in the Bronx to attend Northeastern, where he studied economics and business. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Adorno shared his Northeastern journey on Thursday morning at an event honoring this year’s class of eight Torch Scholars. On Friday, he will graduate with his bachelor’s degree in behavioral neuroscience. This fall, he will begin a doctoral program in biomedical engineering at Ohio State University.

“One of the great things about Torch was the family we became part of when we received this scholarship,” Adorno said. “We all helped one another rise and stand out. We made our mark and we are here to celebrate it today.”

Djibril Diabate, another Torch Scholar who is graduating this year, described the difficulties of growing up poor in the Bronx, New York, in a neighborhood surrounded by drugs, gangs, and violence.

“I knew that if i didn’t remain in school, I would’ve probably been the next person to end up on a T-shirt with R.I.P. written on it,” said Diabate, who added that he focused on his academics and tried to block out “the dangers lurking at the door.”

Philomena Mantella, senior vice president and chief executive officer of the Lifelong Learning Network, said Northeastern’s Torch Scholars exhibit “grit, intelligence, and poise.” Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

He said the Torch Scholars Program gave him the chance to achieve his childhood dream of attaining personal and professional success. He will graduate with a degree in economics and business, and will soon move back home with his family and begin working at PVH Corp., an apparel company in New York.

“Torch provides you with a chance to be part of something special,” he said.

In their remarks, Adorno and Diabate thanked their peers, their families, and the Northeastern faculty, staff, and donors to the Torch Scholars Program whose support has helped them reach their full potential as college students.

Torch Scholars receive full scholarships to Northeastern. The program has supported 141 students since its inception in 2005 and 13 more Torch Scholars will begin at Northeastern this fall.

This year’s graduates have lived in places such as Boston, North Carolina, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Guinea. At Northeastern, they studied abroad in nine different countries and completed more than 6,000 hours of community service around Boston.

“They’re full of grit, intelligence, and poise,” said Philomena Mantella, senior vice president and chief executive officer of the Lifelong Learning Network at Northeastern, “and long before they came to Northeastern, as you heard today, they were bushwacking their pathway to get here. They simply needed the opportunity.”

Mantella, who co-founded the Torch Scholars Program and has played a leading role in shaping its success, closed her remarks by referencing a quotation from celebrity Whoopi Goldberg: “We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches to lead people through the dark.”

“I hope as you leave here today you will move lightly and humbly,” Mantella said, “but also with the weight of a diploma and a network that has supported you to leave bigger and deeper footprints and to throw out little torches as you go.”

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