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On September 25, 2019, two Hillman students, Talita de Oliveira and Olivia Salah, attended a dialogue between Montgomery College President Dr. DeRionne P. Pollard and University of Maryland Baltimore County President, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, III, on the topic  “Through the Lens of Difference: Re-narrating the Nation.” The event began with a short reception, where Talita and Olivia were able to establish some great connections with local professionals. Shortly after, they were guided into an auditorium, where the dialogue was streamed on live television.

As Talita explained, “Hrabowski grew up in southern Alabama and was told as a young boy that he was not allowed to have any new books in school unlike the white children. This infuriated him, tempting him to march for his rights during the civil rights movement, which later caused him to be jailed at the age of twelve. He claims that he and many others were treated inhumanely and like animals, which was unrighteous since everyone is a child of god. But he refused to think of himself as a victim in the situation.”

Hrabowski also shared words of wisdom, inspiration, and advice. Specifically, as Talita shared, he said he is guided by these three tenets: (a) always have high expectations, (b) build a sense of community, and (c) strive to make the world a better place.  Hrabowski also stressed that “If a child is able to read, no one can take that away from him and . . . . repeatedly stated how attitude is everything and the will to learn is of extreme importance. With this comes the concept of inclusive excellence, meaning everyone can learn from each other and build off of one another’s ideas,” explained Talita.
As an adult, Hrabowski has continued to address disparities among women and minorities in STEM careers. As Olivia shared, “he knew this had to change and coined the term ‘grit’ at UMBC, which means “to have resilience, perseverance, and hunger for knowledge.” After working with the NIH and the National Science Foundation, he concluded that students learn in different ways, therefore, institutions should be able to accommodate different types of people and different genders. Likewise, they should be encouraging females to pursue a degree in STEM.”
Olivia was impressed that Hrabowski “encouraged the students in the audience to continue to read and have a hunger to learn. He made a point to say that it is important to celebrate victories such as getting good grades and awards to show that minorities are smart, are capable of reaching their goals, and are excellent students.”

Talita personally related to Hrabowski’s conclusion that “minorities have the greatest hunger to learn and pursue a degree.” She shared that “as a first-generation college student in my family, obtaining a degree from a renowned university will be the greatest accomplishment. My parents immigrated to the states to give me what they could not have back in Brazil, and I feel it is my duty to not only make them proud, but also make myself proud. If there is one thing I could take away from the discussion, it would be the simple fact that the most impressive leaders are broadly educated and not afraid of ambiguity. I want to be able to trust in my decision-making skills with the assurance that failure is okay. I fear experimenting with unknown things, but Hrabowski has taught me the importance of being willing to try and get back up again.”

Olivia concluded, this event “made me appreciate the diversity of Montgomery College and appreciate the inclusivity at Montgomery College. I will use the information I learned from this event to educate my family and those around me about the achievement gap and how we, as a society, can work towards closing the gap.If more people become aware of the achievement gap, it is possible for society to change its perspective and help those who are in need of our support.”

Freeman Hrabowski III, an advocate for racial equality in higher education, recently described his personal experiences that shaped him to become the leader he is today in Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement. In addition to receiving many honors and awards, Hrabowski was also appointed by President Obama to chair his advisory commission Educational Excellence for African American students.

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