The following speech was delivered on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at the Annual Shorenstein Luncheon at the University Club in San Francisco:

Good Afternoon. My name is Gisell Chavez. I am an Aim High Marin Academy graduate and freshman at San Rafael High School.Gisell

Aim High has been important in shaping who I am today. It has encouraged my confidence and taught me how to face challenges. Before Aim High, I was shy when speaking to adults. A formal conversation with an adult was difficult, but Aim High helped me with this challenge. Every time we had our morning assembly, the teachers would urge me to participate, get up on stage and make an impromptu speech. They also had conversations with me, I learned new vocabulary, and it got easier with all of the practice. So here I am today, in front of an audience of adults, to share my story.

I come from a community of violence, drop-outs, and poverty. A place where if kids fail once they feel like they will fail forever. No one pushes themselves without the help of a program like Aim High. My parents support me in what I do, but are really busy and not always around. So when my 6th grade teachequoter encouraged me to go to an informational meeting on a summer program, I went to check it out. The video and information sounded good and I had nothing to do, so I applied and was accepted. I participated for three years, and graduated last summer.

Every person I encountered at Aim High believed in me. That gave me hope and inspiration. It didn’t matter to them where I came from, the income of my family, or my history. Every single staff member sees a light in every student. A light so bright that it will lead down the path of success. Today is a good example. When Matthew asked if I wanted to speak, I thought it was an honor because I believe that what Aim High has done for me, it will do for other kids. It really changed my life for the better and I know it will do the same for others. Being here today is also an opportunity to give back and thank people like Directors Lauren Toker and Hector Moya, who are my positive mentors.

At Aim High, I had the opportunity to learn things I otherwise would not. As a result, when I started ninth grade, I was ready to succeed. My transition to high school—that for so many is so challenging—was smooth, because of what I learned at Aim High.

But Aim High wasn’t only an opportunity to expand my educational skills; it was a life changing experience that has prepared me to face the real world. It gave me the confidence I never thought I would have, and it helped me to see who I am and want to become. I am on the path to college, and my dream is to work in law enforcement some day and speak to audiences about how to achieve success.

This is why it is so important to provide access to Aim High in the East, South, and North Bay. I believe in equal opportunities for all students to expand their knowledge and skills. When you provide an opportunity like Aim High to kids, they get a sufficient start towards a new and hopeful future. You will reach more kids and give them the knowledge that they can and will become anyone they want to if they set their minds to it.

Aim High has become my family. It is full of people I can turn to when I am lost or in need of guidance. It will always be in my heart and I owe so much to this program for giving me the endurance and courage to overcome any obstacle life may throw my way. So I’d like to thank all of you for coming here today and supporting this program because I know that it will make a difference and change the lives of so many kids like me. Thank you.

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