“To be able to say that I met the First Lady and shook hands with the President is incredible,” exclaimed Azeezat Siyanbola, CFES Scholar who graduated from Eximius Preparatory Academy in June.
Azeezat is one of 140 college-bound students from across the nation invited to the White House for the Reach Higher “Beating the Odds” Summit hosted by the First Lady this summer.
“My advisor Mr. Santos nominated my co-mentor and me earlier in the year,” said Azeezat. “One day I got a text from him that read, ‘do you want to go to the White House?’ My first thought was ‘I have to go. I have to get ready.’”
Although she says this experience is the highlight of her pathway to college, Azeezat has always been focused on college. In tenth grade, she became a College For Every Student Scholar and learned about the college process through her CFES mentor.
“Three years later, my mentor and I are still connected,” said Azeezat. “He helped me understand the college process. CFES not only expanded my knowledge of college, but added to my enthusiasm for wanting to go to college.”
At the end of her sophomore year, Azeezat attended CFES College Explore, a three-day residential experience at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondack region of New York State.
“It was amazing,” she exclaimed. “This was the first time I had been out of the City without my parents and in a college environment.”
Azeezat and 30 other CFES Scholars lived in college dorms, attended classes taught by college professors, participated in admissions and financial aid workshops, learned college interview and essay writing skills, and took part in leadership activities.
“It was nice to see first-hand what college would be like. I didn’t want to leave. The whole experience was fun and informative and that is where I started my network and really honed my communication skills,” she added.
With this experience under her belt, Azeezat was well prepared for her junior year.
“I became a CFES mentor,” she stated. “I attended a peer mentor training and filled out an application. I was interviewed by a CFES graduate, a mentor, and our school’s liaison who asked questions about why I wanted to be a mentor and how I would handle certain situations. They also asked us to create a power point about the common app for a presentation to the ninth graders. ”
She continued, “I became a mentor to eight of my peers. I helped them with their academics. If teachers were having problems with my mentees, they would come to me and I would work with the students to help fix the problem. But my favorite lesson was teaching the students to advocate for themselves.”
It’s a lesson that Azeezat claims that she learned early on and an important one to pass on.
“We went on college trips with our mentees,” she added. “We are the leaders and everyone knows that we are CFES Scholars,” she said.
During her senior year, Azeezat and her peers recommended that CFES become a full course.
“CFES is too important to be an after school extracurricular,” she said. “Our advisors agreed and it became part of our schedule. The extra time allowed us to make a road map for applying to college, create a resume, and look into internship opportunities.”
Azeezat is interning at JP Morgan & Chase this summer and will be starting at Barnard College this fall, pursuing pre-med.
“I’m a first generation college student and I didn’t have any home guidance,” she stated. “If it wasn’t for CFES and Mr. Santos, the process would have been unbearable.”
Mr. Santos read four of Azeezat’s personal statements before he told her that she had a good one, and according to her he “will tell you how it is.” In doing so, he’s looking out for his students, which is exactly what he did when he recommended Azeezat for the White House summit.
“There is a lot of data that will say you can’t do it…but you can. You have to stay humble and focused,” said the First Lady to a room full of eager students and according to Azeezat, the First Lady went on to say, “If I would have listened to people that said I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t be here today.”
The students in attendance participated in paying for college and other sessions, and during one of these panels, the President unexpectedly made an appearance.
“President Obama just popped in,” Azeezat exclaimed. “I got to shake his hand. He was only there for 5 minutes, but his words will stay with me forever ‘don’t let anybody discourage you! You have to use education as a tool.’”