By Sylvia Pericles, AVID Alumna
Sylvia Pericles was a student speaker at this year’s Summer Institute in Philadelphia. Below is her speech as prepared. You can also watch her speech!
I wasn’t supposed to be here.
When I was 12, I was placed into foster care; I was angry at myself and at the world. I got kicked out of a junior high school for violent behavior. It seemed impossible for such a small person like me to cause damage, but I did. I developed such hatred that I refused to have friends. I felt alone and unloved, so to hide my feelings I acted outwardly, getting involved in fights at school. I no longer cared about my education, health or life. I entered high school confused and unmotivated. I viewed class as joke. At the time, I did not think I was on the road to anywhere.
During the second semester of my 9th grade year, I was sitting in an art class when my art teacher called me over. She asked with the widest smile on her face, “Are you interested in our new program- AVID?” I asked for an explanation. She explained, “AVID means Advancement via Individual Determination. It’s a program that I think would be great for you.”
This was the first time anything great was offered to me. I hadn’t smiled for days until that news. On the first day of AVID, I was placed in a classroom with about 29 other students.
“Everyone please introduce yourself and tell us your favorite subject,” said the AVID teacher Mr. Fornabaio.
I grew angrier that moment. Why does anyone need to know my name and my favorite subject? Is this a joke? Did I make the right choice by joining this program? At first, I wanted to quit. I was miserable; everyone seemed so enthusiastic about the program.
A week later my AVID teacher asked if he could have a word with me. “You seem a little sad. You haven’t smiled ever since you came into my class. Is there something you want to talk about? Is there anything I could help you with?” he asked.
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. Then, I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “No, there’s nothing wrong.”
Every day, for an entire week, he asked the same question. I had never met anyone that was so determined to know the story behind my sorrow.
So finally, I sat down and talked to him. Little by little, I found myself happier by explaining myself. I was soon becoming friendlier with my classmates. My AVID teacher emerged into a father figure, helping me cope by just talking to me. My classmates became brothers and sisters as I found myself discovering their stories and their struggles. I no longer felt alone knowing that we were all striving for one goal - to attend college.
Webster’s Dictionary says the definition of smart is “mentally alert, knowledgeable, bright, witty, and clever.” I’ve learned that it is the ability to think logically, gather ideas, analyze them, and put the ideas to work. Being smart was not important to me until AVID.
I was given a three-inch binder with Cornell note paper, which helped me develop great, note-taking skills and organization. I was never the type of student to ask for help. My motto used to be, “If I can’t understand it, let it go”.
That changed! All of my AVID teachers went the extra mile to ensure that we understood what was being taught. I was pleased not only with that, but with the fact that we were also provided with tutors to help us when the material was too complicated.
AVID was no longer an extra class on my schedule. It became a boost; walking into the classroom and feeling the twinge of excitement was enough. I felt at home. We were all a family, encouraging each other to strive for the best.
I began to develop confidence. With that confidence, my grades went higher, and I became involved in extracurricular activities. I stepped out of my comfort zone and joined the track team, I was inducted into Arista National Honors Society, and I became Consultative Council President. I also developed an interest in the sciences, and a wonderful AVID teacher selected me to conduct science research at Columbia University for the past few summers.
That teacher, Ms. Oliveri, has been a major part of my life. She has encouraged me to follow my dreams and has supported me on many decisions.
Telling my story was no longer a problem. I told my story in front of hundreds of faces, including former President Bill Clinton, building up strength I never knew I had. I am taking bigger steps toward a brighter future. I will be attending Oswego State University on a full scholarship in the fall, where I will study biochemistry with of hope of becoming an oncologist.
Like I said, I wasn’t supposed to be here. But I am!