Cooke Scholars reflect on Beating the Odds Summit
Last week, five Cooke Scholars headed to the White House to connect with educational leaders at the Beating the Odds Summit. Hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Reach Higher initiative, this summit brought together 130 college-bound, high school graduates to participate in panels and discussions designed to prepare them better for their academic journeys.
Current Cooke Scholars Myles McMurchy (Dartmouth College) and Merilin Castillo (Harvard University) helped facilitate one of the summit’s sessions with Cooke Foundation staff. Three rising Cooke Scholars—Dawit Gebre, Emily Janis, and Isaac Guerrero who also represented The Opportunity Network—attended the summit’s sessions with other recent high school graduates invited to attend.
We asked them to share their reflections and memories of this inspirational event with us.
Isaac Guerrero, rising Cooke Scholar:
“From peer networking to the Wale concert, the Beating the Odds Summit was a blast. My first time at the White House was truly a memorable one, filled with excitement and awe. I received invaluable advice from the First Lady, the Secretary of Education, and current college students who have also beaten the odds in some way. Hearing their stories and seeing their success gave me a new profound hope and excitement for what is to come in the Fall.
My biggest highlight of the event was meeting President Obama’s science advisor, Dr. John Holdren. Yes, shaking the President and the First Lady’s hand was cool, but I was even more grateful to have had time over lunch to speak with Dr. Holdren, who happens to be an alumnus of MIT, where I will begin my undergraduate studies this Fall. I was so intrigued and fascinated by his depth of knowledge as we discussed solutions to climate change, earthquakes, and how he combines science and policy in his current position as advisor. Overall, the Beating the Odds Summit was not only a way for me to explore a place rich with history nor merely learn of others’ disadvantaged pasts, but it gave me a way to make my own history despite the odds against me. Thank you, #ReachHigher.”
Dawit Gebre, rising Cooke Scholar:
“This was honestly the most memorable experience of my life to date. Having always idolized the Obama family and all that they’ve accomplished, this summit really blew my mind. There they were, right in front of me, telling me that anything was possible, that nothing in this world was out of my reach; and if anything seemed to be, to reach higher. It’s one thing to admire the history and accomplishments of individuals that have overcome so much in order to achieve greatness, but it’s a totally different thing to have these people sympathize with you and compare you to themselves. As a matter of fact, during the session with the First Lady, I found myself making eye contact with her multiple times throughout the hour as she shared words of encouragement and motivation. I felt her wisdom soak into my being. I felt her talking to me. Also, having shaken the President’s hand and taken his words of inspiration to heart, I was (and still am) in a state of utter shock. I can’t believe I was fortunate enough to have experienced this. Anything truly is possible.”
Myles McMurchy, Cooke Scholar:
“When I moved to D.C. earlier this summer for an internship, I saw the White House for the first time. I recall staring past the iron fence and Secret Service agents and thinking, “I’ll never get to see what’s inside!” So it was to my amazement when just a few weeks later, I was asked to speak at the White House as part of Michelle Obama’s Beating the Odds Summit.
As a panelist, I addressed a group of incoming college freshmen from across the country. I recalled some of the unexpected challenges I faced and lessons learned in my first three years of college. It reminded me of Cooke Foundation Scholars Weekend 2011, when I (then a senior in high school) sat before a panel of College Scholars with my own dream of going to college. I hope that the students who attended the Summit felt as inspired and motivated as I did at Scholars Weekend. For me, this experience was a testament to the ways the Foundation has changed my life—from helping me to get to college to accompanying me to the White House as I spoke about my journey. And that encourages me to keep working harder, because I’ve learned you never know where your hard work will take you. I, for one, never dreamed I would shake hands with Michelle and Barack Obama!”