• Lillie Burke

Bridges to Belmont prepares to graduate first class

Bridges to Belmont, a full scholarship program allowing students from Metro public schools identified as underperforming by the state of Tennessee to attend Belmont University, is sending off its first graduating class in May.

Bridges to Belmont Program Coordinator Dr. Nadi Bishop has been with the program since 2014, and she is excited to see the program’s seniors graduate.

“This is the first graduating class we’ve had in the program, and we’re already partying about it,” said Bishop. “We did have some people who left the program from that first cohort, but I’ve always said that the people who stuck around are just wildly ambitious. They’re just some really great kids.”

There are currently 104 students enrolled through the Bridges program, 15 of whom are set to graduate in May.

Among them is Summer Shack, a senior theatre and dance major who plans on using her degree to inspire children from similar backgrounds as herself.

“I want to work with children, and I want to use the talents and gifts I have to give back to my community,” Shack said. “I really want to motivate and inspire them to be more than what they’re surrounded by. I’m not really interested in the money.” In its first year, Bridges brought in 25 students. This year, Bridges brought 34 students to Belmont from four Metro schools: Stratford STEM Magnet High School, Maplewood High School, Whites Creek Comprehensive High School and Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School.

One of those 34 students is Chris Clark, a freshman who came to Belmont from Maplewood High School.

“People in my neighborhood that I grew up in had a main goal of getting that 9 to 5 job, simply because they knew that their family didn’t have any money and knew that college was just not even remotely possible,” said Clark. “I think this program is important because it’s really reaching out to those communities and those kids who feel like a higher education is impossible. I thought it would be impossible. If it weren’t for this, I don’t know if I’d even be in college right now.”

Junior Bridges to Belmont scholar Lana Boleyjack came to Belmont from Stratford High School under different circumstances.

“I grew up in a two-person home, middle-class. I had a good education. I didn’t have a whole lot of drama or stress in my life, but a lot of my friends and peers did. I think a lot of them had preconceived ideas about college based on where they come from, like they think they can’t afford it obviously, because they’re living in a poor economic situation,” said Boleyjack.

Students from similar backgrounds could overcome these stigmas, said Boleyjack.

“It’s not something that’s really taught to a lot of them, like that they can succeed, so I would say it’s completely possible for you to go to college and do whatever it is that you want to do with your life. Just because your environment tells you that it’s not possible doesn’t mean that you can’t get there,” said Boleyjack. “You just have to work hard and stay focused to get there.”

As the first Bridges senior class prepares to graduate in May, Bishop looks forward to watching the program continue to grow even more.

“It really does show that there are diamonds in all of these high schools,” said Bishop. “And Belmont is really committed to finding them and making them a part of the Belmont family.”

This article was written by Zach Gilchriest. This article was edited for factual clarification on Oct. 14.

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