Great Expectations 2013 – Address from Linda Saris

Posted on July 5, 2013
by FeliciaOctocog

On June 11,2013, Salem CyberSpace held its second Great Expectations event at the Kernwood Country Club.  260 students, parents, supporters and community members came to celebrate the graduation of 14 high school students and 10 college graduates.

Here is the speech that its Director, Linda Saris, delivered that night:

Today is a very special day for all of you.  The graduates you will see today are among the first students to participate in the academic youth programs which started in 2003, 10 years ago when these students were in middle school.  Your support (and many of you here today have been supporting this organization from the beginning,) has made such a positive impact on these students through your gifts of time and money and I want to thank you all, as employers, staff, volunteers, donors, teachers or advisors – through whom our students strengthen academic skills, life skills and earn much needed social capital.

So what’s next for our graduates?  For our high school graduates, the question has been, so where are you going to college. I am happy to say, that for the 5th straight year, 100% of our students will enroll in college next year.

Thanks to your support, we have sent 51 students to college since 2009. 45 are still in college or graduated for a retention rate of 87% and another 9% are on leaves of absence to return to school next year.  Because of these successes, the DHE has provided us with funds to expand our services to Peabody and Gloucester.  By this time next year, your collective dollars will be supporting approximately 160 college-bound youth in college success, double what we serve today. And through our programs run here at SC and at, and in partnership with, the schools, SSU and Salem Academy your dollars and time will impact 200 additional middle and high school students.  Give yourselves a round of applause.

As adults, right or wrong, what we do during the day, what our job is, is what defines us.  It becomes our identity – it is what shapes other people’s perceptions of who we are.

If you pay even a modicum of attention to the news media  you have heard the stories about the job market for college graduates.  High unemployment rates, higher still underemployment rates (estimates as high as 40%) as college grads take minimum wage jobs that only require a high school diploma.  These stats have led many pundits (chief among whom is William Bennett) to wonder is college worth it?   Are students getting a return on investment?

Well I come here tonight with a glass half full mentality (those who know me know that this is not always the case). These grim numbers only tell half the story.  The other half is that college graduates will over their life time earn significantly more than students without degrees and, as the last recession showed, college grads will suffer far lower unemployment rates. Over time, college grads will find jobs that utilize the thinking and technical skills they learned in college.

There is no doubt the job market for young  people today is difficult.  However, Studies do show that students who have internships and substantive work experiences in high school and college will fare better in school, and later, in the job market when they graduate. And, of course having social capital helps a lot.

Most of our students will have work experience thanks to so many of you who hire youth, after school and during the summers.  This year I have received a large number of internship opportunities and my staff has been working hard to match students with these opportunities. It is your dollars that support my staff and their efforts to step up our job readiness programs that now include job shadowing, job search, resume writing, financial literacy and, now job counseling.

As examples of how you help our students, I have two stories to tell. Short stories

NESI, a local education company that was recently sold, hired 3 college interns – two of whom are Salem CyberSpace College Success students and both of whom graduated college this year. Jacque a recent graduate of SSU in marketing and graphic design and Miguel, a 2013 Montserrat graduate in Illustration, both completed multi-year internships at NESI in their field of study They both got considered for the job because of contacts made by SC staff but they kept their jobs because of their own work effort and ethic and the support of NESI staff.  I interviewed Robert Crosby its CEO. For Bob, the decision to hire interns was simple and I quote “it was not about what NESI would get out of it, it was the opportunity to give these students experience working in an office, interacting with other people, learning about business and its different departments and how all the pieces fit.”

Stacy Ames, President of Falmer Manufacturing, a Salem-based company is a new donor to SC. I met Stacy through BCB where we both serve as Bank Corporators.  She invited me on a tour of her company (actually, I think I invited myself) and I immediately asked if she would be open to bringing on a summer intern and without hesitation she said yes.  Why did Stacy unhesitatingly say yes –  in her own words:

We work with interns because they are our economic future.  Who will fill our jobs of the future?  Interns need hands on experience to bring value to their academics and help launch them in the workforce.” Jesus Morales, last year’s SHS Valedictorian and a sophomore at UPENN, is now doing a chemical engineering internship at Falmer.

Many of you, I know, hire interns. Many of you who are not in a position to hire, provide connections, allow job shadowing and informational interviews and I have NEVER been turned down by any of you when I ask you to speak to one of our youth about careers and work opportunities.

Winter St. Architects, Cabot Money Management, Digital Bungalow,  All Creatures Veterinary Hospital, North Shore Medical Center, McCue Corp, Windover, Turner Construction, Beverly Cooperative Bank, Analogic, Harbor Sweets, Catholic Charities are just a few companies that have helped our young people navigate the world of work.   You do it without hesitation because it makes sense and it makes a difference.

We have 10 college graduates tonight and as I have already said, I, and many of you, have known these youth since middle school.  While I refer to this group as “my kids”, they are also your kids so please kvell (be happy and proud) with me tonight as we celebrate their successes and your impact.