One of the best parts of our program is highlighting the inspiring alumni who graduate and go on to do great things. At our Spring Luncheon on May 21, Aim High graduate and educator Regina Grayson shared her story of attending our program at Lick Wilmerding High School and returning to teach.
Read the moving speech that Regina delivered at the Spring Luncheon to an audience of 200.
I often dream of my future classroom. A place where students are eagerly asking questions. Students are motivated. They have agency. They feel seen and heard. The classroom I imagine is identical to my experience at Aim High.
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Regina Grayson. I am honored to stand before all of you today. I am a proud Aim High graduate and teacher. Aim High shaped my personal and academic life and provided me with a warm community when I needed it most.
I was raised by my grandma, Dolores. She was my support system, my advocate, and my role model. My Grandma was the daughter of Italian Immigrants and the youngest of 11 children. After she finished high school, she got married and had kids. She could have never imagined that she would have to raise another set of children at the age of 75. But that’s what happened. When I was six years old, my mother died. My Grandma became the sole guardian for me and my 3-year-old sister, Raquel, who is also an Aim High grad. She was always very involved in our lives raising us and working at the same time. She packed our lunches every day, and even though we were poor, she always scraped up enough money to give us the best Christmas possible. She was a strong and courageous woman who inspired me to do anything that I set my mind to.
Aim High embraced me for me…At Aim High, I knew I was cared for, and there was no question that my future could be bright.
Unfortunately, my grandma knew very little about the school system and she could barely help with my homework because the material was far too advanced for her. But, she always sat at the kitchen table with me as I struggled through it. The next day she would send me to school with a note to my teacher explaining what I didn’t understand.
I always knew I was smart, but without a traditional support system at home, I was always felt a step behind in school, especially in math. I had to work 10 times harder than my peers.
My elementary school was small, so when my mom died, everyone knew. I felt like I could never escape the label of being someone ‘who had less than the others.’ When I entered middle school, I was ready to escape that identity. I was eager and friendly but was bullied for my acne, and struggled with my mixed race identity. These two things hindered my outgoing and brave personality in the classroom. I desperately needed someone besides my Grandma to believe in me.
I’ll never forget the day I learned about Aim High. A representative visited my 6th-grade classroom at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco. I enjoyed middle school but needed something more. Aim High’s representative invited us to envision a summer experience that provided academic support, extracurricular activities, and a welcoming community. After learning about the program’s benefits—and that it was free—I was determined to attend Aim High. My Grandma immediately supported my decision to apply and helped me through the process.
Aim High embraced me for me, pimples and all. At Aim High, math did not scare me. Stereotypes did not limit me. And for the first time, I saw teachers who looked like me. I found a safe space where students and the teachers could talk about issues affecting our lives. At Aim High, I nurtured a growth mindset and realized I could grow with support and persistence. My creativity and potential were boundless. At Aim High, I knew I was cared for, and there was no question that my future could be bright.
Just weeks before my 8th-grade graduation, my grandma passed away. I was eventually put in foster care and separated from my younger sister. I felt extremely alone. But then came summer. I returned to Aim High where teachers and peers embraced me and cared for me. Teachers went out of their way to ask how I was doing. They shared kind and encouraging words with me, not just to be nice, but because they really did mean it. They took me under their wings and became my extended family. Academics never took precedence over my emotional well being.
Ever since I joined the program, I have dreamt of one day leading my own Aim High classroom. Especially after the enormous loss of my grandma, I’ve always wanted to give back to the community that supported me without hesitation. After I graduated from Aim High, I returned as a volunteer and eventually as a teaching intern.
I am never more proud than when I teach at Aim High. I have the privilege of teaching Issues and Choices, a youth development course that gives middle schoolers a safe space to talk about issues that matter to them – identity, racism, sexism, puberty, and peer pressure. I encourage young people to reach for their dreams, just as I was pushed to do as an Aim High student.
Beyond Issues and Choices, I started the first ever Cheer elective on my campus. This class was all girls, except for one brave boy named Kekeoa. In many schools, boys would have been teased. But at Aim High, everyone supported him.
I am so grateful for several of my Aim High teachers, Sully and Tony, who recognized my talent. They encouraged me to be an educator and to one day have my own classroom. I also want to thank my previous site directors, Nate Lundy, Carrie Maslow, Chris Williams, and Cameron Yuen Shore, as well as another one of my teachers Michelle Cody, for always believing in me as a student, co-worker, teacher, and individual. Today, I am pursuing a double major in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies and Community Studies with an Education minor at UC Santa Cruz. After I graduate, I plan to enter a master’s program to teach at Hillcrest Elementary School or Burton High school, both of which I attended as a student.
I feel privileged to be an Aim High graduate and educator. Because here, you are not confined to a box or a label. You are pushed to explore your dreams. You are given the agency to discover who you are. You are surrounded by staff, students, resources, and knowledge that brings out nothing but the best in everyone.
I am a product of Aim High’s impact. I stand before you today as an orphan, a foster youth, and a first-generation college student. I would not be here today if it wasn’t for the sacrifices of my Grandma and the support of Aim High.
Aim High was the driving force that propelled me forward both before and after the loss of my Grandma. Aim High is the reason I am on the path to becoming a teacher and supporting future generations. Aim High is allowing me to reach my dreams. Thank you.
Are you an Aim High graduate, or do you know one who we should highlight? Email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.