Excerpted from a speech by Jharol Aguirre, NYC Outward Bound Schools alum and student at Queens College
My name is Jharol Aguirre, I graduated from Leaders High School in 2016. I did not have your typical high school journey. I transferred in to Leaders my sophomore year and I found it immediately hard to adjust because I was not familiar with the Outward Bound culture and its expectations. I was coming from a very big high school that focused on self-guided studying and had no aspects of community.
I vividly remember my first day at Leaders. I was intimidated because I knew I wasn’t as social as everyone around me. I was intimidated because the teachers seemed really smart. Lastly, I was intimidated because I was not sure if I could be part of that community.
This was proven to me the minute I walked into my crew. I walked into a well formed and developed group that seemed to work really good together and knew each other very well. How was I going to integrate myself into such a group?
But one of the things that makes our schools different is their ability to welcome and accept any incoming freshman or transfer student into the larger NYC Outward Bound Schools community. Another thing that makes us different is that we are not just students inside of a homeroom class, we are part of a crew that connects us to the larger NYC Outward Bound community and its values. We can see this in our gathering today [at Meetup Day 2018]: we are all coming from different schools, we don’t all look alike, we don’t all think the same way, but we are connected. We are all connected through the central values that our schools have embedded in us.
Another thing that makes us different, is the way we are able to learn through hands-on experience and through strong connections with our teachers. From the day that I started school at Leaders, I could tell that I wasn’t going to be able to just talk my way through classes. I was very good at coming up with things on the fly and passing at the last minute. But at Leaders my teachers quickly made me realize that I needed to think critically, develop my own arguments, find my own data, and present my own work. Leaders has taught me that I am not defined by any test score, failure, or success; that there are many different ways of showcasing and fulfilling my own potential.
One can see how these lessons are shaping my college experience now. Once again I transferred schools, but I took everything that I learned in high school and began to implement the values I learned into my post-secondary experience.
I am a very outspoken and energetic person, but I can also be really quiet and thoughtful. These aspects of my personality were forged at Leaders and have helped me join and influence different communities on campus. I am part of the volleyball club, but I am also able to just meet a random stranger on the train and form a friendship. No joke — this actually happened this year. While I mentioned I am outgoing, I don’t think I would be able to put myself out there in that way had it not been for Leaders instilling in me the confidence to connect and interact with people who may not appear to be like me.
I have made it seem like our high school experiences are fluent and that we faced no challenges. But like many of us, I have had my own fair share of barriers. Not everyone is able to connect to my experience, but you will be able to find inspiration out of it: I found out that I was undocumented during my sophomore year at Leaders, and I was informed about the many challenges I would be experiencing on my journey to graduating and attending college.
One of those challenges was discovering that I am not eligible for financial aid. However, this community offered an unlimited amount of support to me while navigating my next steps. It helped me so much that by the end of my senior year I did not feel discouraged and followed through with my school work and my college applications. By the end of all this I was able to say that I was accepted into college with a full ride Dreamers scholarship.
In high school I was not a straight A student with high SAT scores, but I was still able to achieve this because our community taught me how to articulate who I am and ask for help when I need it and to never stop continuing to progress.
I have mentioned how being part of NYC Outward Bound Schools community has impacted my educational experience and my life. When I graduated from high school I still felt the need to stay close to the organization that helped me out so much, so I joined NYC Outward Bound Schools’ College Crew. I met students, like you, from across all of our high schools. We met weekly and I had the opportunity to explore our values even more as an adult. If you are planning to stay in NYC, you can join this group and experience this for yourself. And since you are all here for Meetup Day, I encourage you to practice what crew instills in us. I challenge you to connect with someone you have never met, just like you will need to after high school.
No matter what road you end up taking after graduating, it is up to you to realize what type of support you need and when you want to receive it. But one thing you do not have to worry about is who you are going to receive that support from. You are seeing it right in front of you and around you. Just do not forget to ask for it.
NYC Outward Bound Schools are based on the value of community. No matter how far you stray and how much of your connection you lose, it is up to us to support this community in order for the next group to enjoy all of its benefits just like we did. This does not stop once you graduate, we are forming a larger crew today and you will be part of this community for life.