Hello everyone. My name is Shelly Rhymes. I am the proud mother of a Breakthrough college graduate. It is a pleasure to be here withyou all. How did I become one of Breakthrough’s biggest fans? That’s simple: It changed my daughter’s life and it changed my life. For those of you who are just now hearing about Breakthrough, that may sound too strong. I hope my story will help you understand just how true those words are.
To me, Breakthrough means compassion. Compassion brings individuals together. Compassion can transform a person and can change their future. To show the power of Breakthrough’s compassion, I would like to start 25 years ago. I was 17 years old, having just completed high school in Central Louisiana, where many generations of my family had lived and worked. We were always poor. No one ever left and very few went to college. Something happened to me that made me want to change that reality – I found out I was pregnant.
I arrived in Austin scared, but determined to make a better life for my new daughter. One day, I found myself lost on Guadalupe, trying to meet a family member somewhere in busy downtown Austin. I just stood there, frozen with fright. Long-time Austinites will laugh at this but my compassionate savior that day was none other than Leslie, the beautifully dressed, homeless man who for decades was an icon of Austin. He came up to me and asked, “Are you all right?” He helped me find the Eckerd’s I was actually looking for on Congress. What an introduction to Austin!
I found my way, welcomed my beautiful baby girl to this world, and tried to be the best parent I could be. That was so incredibly hard! All you parents out there know. Being a parent is hard. Period. For me, I felt this tremendous pressure to make her life better than what I had, while struggling to make ends meet. And from an early age I could tell she was smart and had a maturity beyond her years. During her transition from elementary to middle school, I began to notice she would downplay her accomplishments and was ashamed of her intellect. I worried I would let her down. What if she didn’t reach her potential?
One day, when she was a 6th grader at Fulmore Middle School, she came home excited. She pulled out her art easel and gave me a presentation – a sales pitch really – to convince me to let her join this thing called Breakthrough. I still remember the charts and her words showing how she would have support to graduate from college. Needless to say, we signed up right way! Her first experience at Breakthrough was the six-week summer program and I saw immediately how Breakthrough pushed her to be a better student. She would come home talking about the discussions she had with the other Breakthrough students and her college-aged teachers. They critiqued her work but always encouraged her curiosity. I could see the fire was rekindled inside her. She now had a safe, nurturing environment where it was ok to be smart
That same summer was when we met her first Breakthrough advisor, Jennifer. She was like a surrogate sister, keeping her focused and grounded. Jennifer and I talked all the time, weekly. Together we saw my daughter struggle through middle school to keep her goals high, when some of her friends weren’t. Jenn pushed her in a way that I couldn’t, visited her at school, talked to her teachers, reminded her of her long-term goals, and never let her settle for second best. This outstanding support – learning in the summer and an advisor year-round – continued throughout her four years of high school. Breakthrough was there every step of the way.
But, as all of you parents of older children know, it only gets harder. Now, we faced the scariest transition of all: college. For me as a parent, I didn’t know how I could help her. I didn’t go to college. We leaned on our new Breakthrough advisor, Michael. We had countless strategy sessions to tackle the steps of applying to college: how to choose the right school, to write a college essay, to fill out the application, to prepare for the ACT and SAT, to read those confusing financial aid awards, and I could go on and on. Breakthrough’s compassion in that moment was the knowledge they brought to our family. This was even more needed when my daughter didn’t get into her dream school.
It took all we had to keep her spirits up. But that fire Breakthrough lit inside her carried her into college. Every year, she willingly gave up her spring and summer breaks so she could take on more course work, engage in community service, and attend Breakthrough events. She graduated from St. Edward’s University in just three years. My beautiful daughter is amazing! And, that one university she was rejected from is now the school she is completing her graduate studies. She is halfway through her law degree at UT. And, she is an intern in Mayor Adler’s office. She wants to devote her life to public service and, one day, enter politics herself. I think she’s going to do just that, but of course I think she can do anything and everything.
My daughter is my inspiration. In fact, I have been so inspired that four years ago I decided to go back to school to serve as an example. In just over a month, I’ll graduate from Texas State University. And now, I would like to invite my daughter Yasmine to the stage to properly introduce her to you all. Yasmine, thank you for all your hard work, for that fire inside you, and for that sales pitch on your art easel so many years ago. I love you and am so proud.
We’d like to take this time to formally thank the Breakthrough staff, summer teachers, and volunteers for their continued compassion. You all have brought us together in this amazing community, one that transforms lives, and changes the futures. Thank you.