Still Smiling

Dear Friends,

I am still smiling – and maybe wiping away a tear or two! – thinking about this week’s celebration of our phenomenal Urban Alliance Class of 2020. Their joy, their words, and their optimism have humbled and inspired me. Thank you for helping us celebrate all that they have achieved and overcome this year.

In case you missed it, here’s the full video of our national celebration:

Like so many 2020 plans, our annual Public Speaking Challenge was upended by COVID-19. Instead of in-person events for each region that would typically combine a judged public speaking competition with our annual celebration, we adapted to make the most of our virtual work environments.

First, students recorded mock video interviews, learning how to leverage both their public speaking and interviewing skills in this new virtual environment. Rather than facing an in-person panel of judges from their community, all judging is taking place virtually over the next two weeks, thanks to the support of many dedicated volunteers including a number of employees from Amazon and Capital One. Second, we held five simultaneous regional events followed by our first-ever national event to celebrate our students, a completely new experiment for us to honor our students and amplify their voices, stories – and most importantly, their dreams.

Our keynote speaker John B. King, Jr., President and CEO of The Education Trust and former US Secretary of Education told our students: “Class of 2020, to be sure, the last few months of your senior year and your internship program have not looked like you imagined. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of daily life. But at every turn, you demonstrated resilience and you persevered … Today, each of you has proven what’s possible.”

I truly believe that the Class of 2020 can do anything they set their minds to. I can’t wait to see all they will accomplish.

So if, like me, you want to celebrate these incredible young men and women a bit longer, or if you were unable to make the live events, here are links to our full events from Baltimore, Chicago, DC, Detroit, and Northern Virginia, as well as our national event.

Thank you for making this a program year we will never forget, and for rallying around our students to help us keep our commitment to them, ensuring that they continued earning and learning throughout this turbulent time.

I am so proud to be part of this community.

With gratitude,

Eshauna Smith