As a smile spread across his face, Mike Nylund of Scholarship America knew exactly why he was feeling so good and so passionate about the students and mentors he was addressing.
Nylund, the CEO and president of the nationally renowned philanthropic organization that has awarded more than $3.8 billion in college scholarships in its 60-year history, was savoring the moment during the Excel Beyond 211 Dollars for Scholars celebration for its 2022 college graduates.
“It struck me how fitting it is that EB211 Dollars for Scholars earned Dr. (Irving) Fradkin’s Legacy Award last year,” Nylund said in his opening remarks to more than 250 supporters, mentors and students on July 13. “This is exactly the type of legacy our founder wanted to leave.”
Nylund had just witnessed EB211 award scholarships to 91 low-income and first-generation students and applauded as the nonprofit organization celebrated the success of 22 new college graduates in 2022. Since 2015, EB211 DFS has distributed more than $450,000 in scholarships and grants since starting its college mentoring program. This year, EB211 DFS distributed more than $112,000 in scholarships and $17,500 in grants.
EB211 Board president Nancy Robb, a former superintendent of Township High School District 211, was the emcee for the 2022 celebration, which included a keynote address by Asa Gordon, a former Palatine High School educator and now the director of College and Career Readiness at East Aurora District 131.
Robb, who co-founded EB211 with former high school guidance counselor Susan Quinlan in 2014, opened the evening by “shining a spotlight” on EB211 and its success. More than 73 percent of EB211 DFS students from the high school graduating class of 2016 have earned a college degree, a rate that is 7 times greater than national figures for low-income students.
Speaking to the recent grads who achieved their dream of earning a college degree, Robb said: “You are now a beacon for others, and I challenge you to continue your quest for knowledge and discover your own unique way to make our world a better place. Reflect on your experiences and share them with others. Be that light!”
Gordon reflected on the many challenges facing students from low-income families and reminded them that they have the resources within to be successful if they tap into their dream, their determination and their spiritual strength.
“You have everything you need inside of you. You have the audacity to dream to be whatever you want,” he said.
Each year, EB211 DFS matches 30 college-ready students from Palatine Township High School District 211 with 30 mentors who offer them college and career guidance to go along with the chapter’s scholarship and financial assistance opportunities. Currently, EB211 DFS supports more than 150 students pursuing a college degree.
Shabistha Mohammed, a graduate in accounting from the University of Illinois at Chicago, told her fellow EB211 mentees to work closely with their mentors, but also to challenge themselves.
“You are your biggest advocate. Set your goals and go after them,” said Mohammed, who moved to America with her mom and brothers in 2009, and graduated from Hoffman Estates High School. “Get involved in as many things as possible. Meet as many people as possible. Your past isn’t going to determine your future. Your goals will.”
In his closing remarks, Nylund noted the bond that EB211 DFS, as one of 500 affiliates of Scholarship America, has created with its students and the community it serves.
“The beauty and power of education is that it gives you limitless opportunities and options, and provides you those tools with which to dive into each one of those,” Nylund said. “Fortunately for all of you, you have something else in common – a community, like this, that has your back.”