Fifty-four unique high schoolers from the Orlando area were recognized Sunday for their accomplishments during the past year at a banquet at the UCF Student Union.
UCF’s Upward Bound program, a government-funded program that assists high school students in low-income families, students on track to become first-generation college students and students with disabilities, held its end-of-the-year banquet and graduation ceremony at the Pegasus Ballroom. The banquet honored 49 graduating seniors and five high-achieving underclassmen in a one-hour ceremony.
Of the 54 students recognized, only 22 – 21 seniors and one underclassman – were able to attend the ceremony. Each senior received a certificate and a medal for completing high school and taking part in the program. The underclassman received a medal in honor of her high academic achievement.
The students in attendance represented several high schools in the greater Orlando area, including Colonial, East River, Lake Howell, Oviedo, Seminole, University and Wekiva.
Those in attendance also discovered which schools the students will be heading to next year. The students will be representing many schools across the state of Florida: Florida State University, Seminole State College, St. Leo University, the University of North Florida, the University of South Florida and Valencia College. Two students – Upward Bound valedictorian Brenda Feliciano and Jerald Villaver – will be attending UCF starting in the fall.
The event began with speeches from DeLaine Priest, associate vice president of Student Development and Enrollment Services, and Rebekah McCloud, UCF Upward Bound director.
A third speech was given by Feliciano. Feliciano, who will be graduating from Colonial High School in early June, focused her speech on how much Upward Bound assisted her in achieving academic success.
“The [Upward Bound] program services in tutoring, Saturday sessions and academic advising have helped me receive not only the best grades possible, but the best education possible,” Feliciano said.
Following the speeches, the students were officially recognized for their participation in the program. Similar to a commencement ceremony, the students walked across a stage set up inside the ballroom, received their certificate and medal and took pictures with Priest and McCloud. The seniors were also dressed in the cap, gown and academic regalia they will wear when they graduate from high school in a few weeks, further adding to the commencement atmosphere.
The end of this year’s Upward Bound schedule also marked the end of the first four-year grant cycle for UCF’s Upward Bound program, which was established in 2008. All Upward Bound programs are given a $250,000 grant by the federal government each year of the grant cycle, totaling $1 million. After each cycle, the program must reapply for the Upward Bound grant. UCF was able to procure a no-cost extension from the government, allowing the program to run for a five-year cycle on the $1 million allocated to it.
“We applied for a new Upward Bound grant. … We won’t hear anything probably until September or October, if we received the grant or not,” McCloud said.
Students and parents spoke very positively about the Upward Bound program and expressed their hope that, in spite of the recession, the government will continue to sponsor the program.
“Honestly, the government should keep supporting it because kids nowadays are dropping out left and right … and we need people like Upward Bound to push them and show them that college and a future are the way to go, because without college or education or knowledge … there’s nothing, just oblivion,” said Michael Barahona, brother of honored senior Gene Barahona.
Regardless of the future of the program, one thing is for certain: Those seniors have completed a major milestone in their young lives. Perhaps the “sweet” taste of success for these seniors is best summed up by the words, written in icing, on cake waiting for them following the ceremony: “Congratulations Upward Bound Seniors.”