Before Haverford, The White House
Qwajarik Sims '19 and Talia Scott '19 were among the 140 college-bound students invited to the Reach Higher “Beating the Odds” Summit at the White House in late July.
The students of the Class of 2019 arrived on campus in August chock-full of college survival advice from family, friends, and teachers. Two of them even had some guidance from President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Qwajarik Sims and Talia Scott were among the 140 college-bound students invited to the Reach Higher "Beating the Odds" Summit at the White House in late July.
The attendees, some of whom are the first members of their families to pursue high education, heard real-life advice from panelists including Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, rap artist Wale, and Brown University junior Manuel Contreras, whose nonprofit organization 1vyG provides support for first-generation college students.
One memorable summit moment for Scott was the story Michelle Obama told about deciding to go to Princeton University after her older brother began classes there. Some of her teachers told her the Ivy League was "a reach," recalls the Haverford first-year student, a New Yorker who had previously visited the White House and met the first lady.
"But she knew if [her brother] could get in, she could get in. She said she was always focused and a hard worker. She knew what she was there for, and she didn't care what anybody thought about her. That was an inspiration. It was nice hearing the first lady say you really have to make decisions for yourself," Scott says.
Sims, a Philadelphia native, says he found particularly valuable the presentation given by Contreras, the Brown University student, who talked about the stress that freshmen, especially those who are higher-education trailblazers for their families, may feel.
"He said when he first got to college, he essentially didn't know how to be a college student," says Sims. "Then after his first semester, he went home and found out he didn't know how to be at home anymore."
President Obama was a surprise guest, addressing attendees after the presentations as they waited for Wale to perform. Obama told the crowd the conference was important because the country succeeds only if every young person is able to dream big and has the tools to do so.
Said the president: "If there's one thing that's always set America apart, it's been the idea that no matter what you look like, where you come from … what religion you were, what ethnicity—if you worked hard, you could make it. We haven't always met that ideal, but that's always been the goal. That's what's unified us as a nation."
And, he noted, "If a kid born in Hawaii named Barack Obama can end up being president of the United States and a young girl born on the south side of Chicago can end up being the first lady, there's nothing you can't do."
The two Haverford freshmen took different routes to the White House. Scott, who is considering a major in political science, premed, or economics, was nominated by the I Have a Dream Foundation, a multistate nonprofit that helps youth from low-income communities pursue higher learning. Sims, an economics major, was nominated by both the Asomugha Foundation, a nonprofit founded by former NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha and his family, and Philadelphia Futures, a program that assists low-income aspiring college students.
Philadelphia Futures Executive Director Joan Mazzotti says Sims embodies all that Philadelphia Futures tries to do, excelling inside the classroom and out: "We couldn't have a better ambassador."
And Haverford might not have had Sims as a freshman without the program. Since his junior year of high school, he's been mentored by Marc Inver '71. It was Inver who introduced him to Haverford and took him on a campus tour.
"At the time, I had no idea I would end up here," Sims says. "Philadelphia Futures made sure I stayed on the right path and constantly motivated me to be better. That's the reason I'm here today."