Last week, Exec-Comm proudly accepted Year Up’s Community Ambassador Award during the Class 24 graduation ceremony. The Community Ambassador Award is given to a partnering organization whose commitment to Year Up “positively impacts a young adult and provides them with a platform for significant and lasting change.”
For those who aren’t familiar with Year Up, it is a fantastic organization whose “mission is to close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.” They achieve this mission through a “high support, high expectation model that combines marketable job skills, stipends, internships, and college credits. [Year Up’s] holistic approach focuses on students’ professional and personal development to place these young adults on a viable path to economic self-sufficiency.”
Our Exec-Comm team delights in teaching these eager, motivated, under-served young adults how to communicate and present themselves and their content. We help them do this by suggesting that they focus less on themselves and more on others. Tonight’s ceremony truly made me think about this advice, and what it means to me.
For the first time, I felt at odds with Exec-Comm’s philosophy. These students spent their childhoods without any opportunity to focus on themselves. Many of them spent their time looking after others in their family, or simply trying to stay afloat.
Every person in the auditorium sat mesmerized by the stories told and videos shown about specific Year Up students’ journeys. Two brave young women shared their moving stories of how they arrived at Year Up. The grit and perseverance they both exhibited overwhelmed me.
One young woman, a single mom of a toddler, commuted more than two hours each morning by bus, train, and foot to ensure she arrived in time to attend morning meeting. Another continuously found the strength to dismiss the negative messaging she heard her entire life telling her she was nothing. There was the young man who grew up in the foster system and showed such promise that the foster agency recommended him to be part of this amazing program. (As an aside, he was recently hired by one of the largest financial institutions in the world, something that could never have happened if Year Up didn’t close that opportunity divide for him.) These were just a few of the moments that struck me throughout the evening.
I wasn’t just in awe of the students; I was awestruck by the C-suite executives, recent retirees, and Fortune 500 companies that support Year Up from donations and sponsorships to internships and job placement. I was rapt by the members of the Year Up board who share their time, their fortune, and their experiences as executives, interested not just in the organization’s bottom line, but in building the students’ self-esteems, technical and soft skills sets, and opening the doors to work in corporate America where they may not otherwise have been given a chance.
As the ceremony ended, I whispered to my friend, Julie, who introduced me to Year Up that I wanted to do more to help. We brainstormed a bit and she suggested that I consider mentoring one of the new alumni, as she begins her job in the corporate world. Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind:
- I can’t wait to learn from my mentee about true grit and determination. I look forward to playing even a small role in her successful future and professional career.
- The advice and Exec-Comm’s philosophy to focus less on yourself and more on others was really advice for me. I reflected on how lucky I am to do my little part in helping Year Up achieve their mission.