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‘Be Your Best changed everything’; Students graduate from summer academy program

After taking the initiative to prepare for success in college, 19 students graduated from the Be Your Best College Prep Academy program through Riverland Community College on Thursday morning.

For eight weeks this summer, each individual took math, reading and writing courses. They also had the opportunity to develop student success strategies. The Be Your Best College Prep Academy program has been around for 13 years and started as an initiative targeting under-served, under-participating and under-represented students to develop skills necessary to succeed in higher education.

Along with course work, students took time with tutors, participated in the events that helped build social relationships, engage in college and career preparation advising and helped with service learning projects.

“Students, you should be proud of your efforts,” said Betsy Goetz, coordinator of the Be Your Best program. “Parents, be proud of your students … You all have the heart, intellect and grit to succeed.”

Thanks to the donations and funding received from The Hormel Foundation, Alliance for Educational Equity, Riverland Community College Foundation and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, students between the ages of 16 to 22 who enroll in the Be Your Best program can attend for free.

All the hard work that the graduates put in paid off. Families and friends gathered in Riverland’s West Building cafeteria, where lunch was served and awards were presented. The program’s impact reached numerous students and allowed them to pursue opportunities in higher education that many had thought were out of reach for them.

“I’m proud to be a graduate from the Be Your Best program,” said Jacinta Setik. “I’m more confident now than I have ever been before in my life. Thank you, Be Your Best.”

Marianna Rodriguez, left, happily accepts her certificate of completion during the Be Your Best College Prep Academy program graduation on Thursday morning.

Goetz read aloud some examples of what hope some students had because of their experiences with the Be Your Best program. These hopes were recorded into an anthology surrounding the topic “dreams.”

Many of those dreams included a prosperous life for the people who cared for them throughout their life and depicted a picture where an education could lead to a road of success.

“There are too many struggles that make it not possible for my parents to buy their home,” Goetz read. “I want to make lots of money, so I can buy my parents a home.”

For one of those students, the dream of finding a better life for herself came full circle.

Poe Thu, a Be Your Best program graduate, shared her story with around 60 people in attendance at the ceremony.

She grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to Austin in 2008. She said that never in her life would she have had the confidence to speak in front of people or the confidence to excel in academics; however, being able to enroll in the Be Your Best program gave Thu a solid foundation to build on her future plans to attend Riverland as a college student. Her journey for a higher education has just started.

“I struggled with writing and I didn’t feel like I had any resources to help me,” Thu said. “Be Your Best changed everything for me. I gained great confidence in writing and math that I’ve always lacked in high school … I can succeed.”

Being able to see the tangible success of students from the Be Your Best program gave tutors and those involved with the program a sense of accomplishment. The students’ success was, ultimately, their success as well.

“We hope you learned a lot this summer,” Goetz said. “Be Your Best changes lives. Not just students’ lives. It changes all of our lives. We are humbled to be a part of this journey…we enthusiastically await for your dreams to come true.”