The Bulldog Classic always features an alumni speaker who was a financial aid recipient and student athlete while at D-E. This year it was Sean Larry Stevens ’06, an Englewood native who broke School records as a cross country and track runner.
How would you characterize your D-E experience?
At first, attending Dwight-Englewood was not easy academically or socially. I was an inner-city kid, coming from a poor family and had never been exposed to the level of [academic rigor] at Dwight. Honestly, going to Dwight was probably one of the most difficult decisions I could have made as a 14-year-old teenager, because I had to leave behind what I thought was a normal and perfect life. For years, I was told that I was at the top of my class and ready to compete for a spot at the top universities. When I got to Dwight, I quickly realized that this was untrue; I was barely ready to compete with my classmates. Additionally, I was pushed to interact with people who were from more privileged backgrounds than me and had a world of experiences that I’d never had nor could have dreamed of.
After overcoming my fears of this new community, I began to take advantage— slowly at first—of the variety of opportunities available to me at Dwight. I joined the dance club, Dwight Mix [the a cappella group], and Jazz Rock; ran cross country and track; performed in multiple musicals and theater productions; and worked hard to develop positive relationships with my teachers.
Where has your college and post-college journey taken you?
After leaving Dwight, I went on to attend Cornell University, where I was determined to become a cardiologist. While on my pre-med track at Cornell, I picked up a minor in education, and joined numerous social, fraternal, and political organizations. Upon graduation, I joined Teach For America as a Spanish teacher in Washington, DC, and eventually became a dean of students. I then decided to relocate after graduate school to the New York City/Northern New Jersey area to help found a middle school in Harlem.
What motivated you to focus on education?
The injustices that exist in today’s school systems are discouraging. From personal experience—both in public and private schools—and having worked at a public middle school as a school administrator for the past two years, it is my life’s mission to push the educational reform movement even further. Sadly, students in marginalized urban communities are put on an abhorrently different educational trajectory than those born in communities that are not considered low-income communities. A disheartening number of those students end up graduating high school, and an even more frightful number end up graduating college. Currently, I am an educator and a school leader in Harlem who is planning to open a high school in New York City for the upcoming 2015–2016 school year, to ensure that [my] scholars are on the pathway to success, [will] attend the college of their choice, and [live] a life of active citizenship. Additionally, I am looking to launch an educational and mentorship nonprofit organization based in New York City for students to help them in developing their character, creative writing, and public speaking skills.
What advice do you have for students today?
Be unapologetic about advocating for yourself in school. Don’t be passive about your education; utilize it to gain access to opportunities in your life. Invest in yourself by investing and caring about the education that you are receiving. If you allow others to dictate your feelings about your education, you give others the power to dictate your future.