Upward Bound program: A reason to celebrate

The difficulty in holding back tears could clearly be seen on many faces as 22 graduating high school seniors from around the area were celebrated in the Upward Bound Program’s Senior Recognition Night in the Cranston Marche at SUNY Fredonia on Wednesday.

The Upward Bound Program is an educational opportunity program for low-income Americans, with the goal of providing help to students in overcoming class, social and cultural barriers to higher education. Students were honored at the event for their outstanding successes in both high school and the program itself, and for their successes to come.

“They were just a very special class,” said Loretta Slaton Torain, director of the program. “They were dedicated, willing to do whatever we asked of them, community service projects, fundraising, attended all of the workshops, tutoring sessions, campus visits. They did everything a first generation college student should do, and they applied to a number of colleges and were accepted. Success.”

Torain’s son, Zachary, was one of the honorees at this year’s Recognition Night. At times, Torain held back tears as she spoke to the parents, friends and family of the honorees at the event, clearly brimming with pride for all of them.

Dunkirk High School was represented by 17 students in the program’s Class of 2013. Chautauqua Lake Central School had two students while Brocton, Ripley and Silver Creek Schools had one student each.

Torain said the students of this year’s class were accepted into more colleges than any other class. She also said it was the largest class the SUNY Fredonia program had ever seen in its 25-year history.

Jacquelyne Chiarot, the regional director for United States Congressman Tom Reed’s Chautauqua County office, spoke at the event.

“You guys are the future of this country, and this area,” Chiarot said in her remarks to the honorees. “What [you] do, most people don’t do, and you did it successfully. You can do anything.”

Dean of the SUNY Fredonia College of Education, Christine Givner, spoke to the students as well.

“This is an important marker,” she said. “The dedication and perseverance you’ve demonstrated in your work … over the last several years will serve you well as you begin your next grand adventure. Best successes, and may the Force be with you.”

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent along a letter to the students, which was read during the event by Matt Baetzhold, academic coordinator for the Upward Bound Program.

“It gives me great pleasure to congratulate all of tonight’s award recipients,” the letter read. “I am grateful that programs like Upward Bound remain actively involved in the community by fostering a safe learning environment for our children.”

All of the students received special gifts from the staff members of Upward Bound, as well as certificates from Congressman Reed, New York State Sen. Cathy Young and Assemblyman Andy Goodell. They also received an honor cord, which will be worn during their upcoming high school graduations, as well as a pin, which they received from significant relatives or friends of their choosing.

As for the students’ future careers, Torain had one word to say about where they will be going:

“Far,” she said. “They’re going into various majors, from psychology to diesel engines and band repair. We’ll be looking for them four years from now, and we’ll see the results.”

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