It’s that time of year—colleges acceptance letters are flowing in, making their way first to the hands of elated students, then to the wall of ’s main corridor, the white paint covered by cheerful, exclamation point-filled offers from schools around the country.
But all of this is old news for seniors MacRegga Severe, Gregory Boles, Brian Louis and Anthony Santiago. As recipients of the prestigious Posse scholarships, they’ve known for months not only where they're going to school in the fall, but what to expect when they get there.
Started in 1989, the Posse Foundation offers both academic and financial support to promising students with disadvantaged backgrounds—students who might not be accepted through the traditional application route, but who show strong leadership potential and a fierce drive to succeed.
Posse Scholars begin meeting together with a mentor in the months leading up to their first day of class, and continue to work as a group throughout their college career. The formula appears to be working: 90 percent of Posse Scholars graduate.
"They sat us down with last year’s grads who applied for Posse and they told us about it; they said they loved it, and that they felt prepared," said Boles, of Fort Greene, who will be attending Dickinson College in the fall. "Posse is a program that gets people to feel accepted when they get into college, to be able to navigate it."
But becoming a Posse Scholar is no cake walk itself. Some 14,000 students are nominated nationwide to compete for a scant 600 slots.
Bishop Ford's Director of Guidance, Dr. Carol Carielli, nominates ten students from the school each year, who each undergo a series of interviews: first in a group, then individually to determine their choice of school (Posse functions based on partnerships with 40 universities around the country), and a final interview.
The four winners got their acceptance calls around Christmas.
"This year is the most we’ve ever had, and it’s really unusual to get even one student," Carielli said. "So we’re really happy."
So are the students. Really, really happy.
"My heart stopped. I couldn’t believe it," said Louis, who will be heading to Brandeis University.
"I was walking home with [Boles and Louis]," said Severe, a Haitian immigrant who will also be attending Brandeis. "We were at Atlantic Terminal. I was shaking on the phone. I thought I was going to pass out."
Boles, on the other hand, missed the call entirely. He had misplaced his phone and had no idea that Posse staff were trying to reach him. When he finally got word that he'd been admitted, he wasn't shy about sharing the news.
"The whole school apparently knew because I was running through the halls,” he said.
But unlike the rest of their peers, many of whom are still waiting to hear from their top-choice schools, the Posse college process has already begun.
For the last six weeks, Severe, Boles, Louis and Santiago (who will be attending the University of Southern California) have been traveling to Manhattan to meet with their fellow Posse Scholars, as well as a staff member, who guides them through discussions on everything from the academic aspect of college to the social.
"We discuss certain topics that college students will talk about, and they actually make you comfortable so that when you go off to college, you’re not unfamiliar with any of the concepts," said Severe. "You’ll be ready for anything."
Asked whether he would recommend Posse to others, Boles said he would. In fact, his outlook on the program appears to mirror Posse's own approach to selecting its students.
"When I tell people about Posse, I say it’s for people who see a square and imagine a cube," he said. "Somebody who looks outside the box and sees what could be."