PTech Excelsior Graduates Gain More Than a College Degree
By Jesse King
Newburgh Free Academy’s graduation ceremony on Thursday night was a night of momentous celebration for all graduates, but it held extra significance for some. NFA’s PTECH Excelsior Academy program has been a life-changing blessing in the lives of the dedicated scholars who have persevered through it. Seventeen Excelsior students saw their efforts culminate into academic excellence when they received their associates degrees from SUNY Orange last week and their high school diplomas on Thursday.
Two Excelsior graduates, Gabriella Estrada and Brendin Skakel, both having studied cyber security in the program, obtained more than just a college education in high school. Their experiences in the program propelled them to a future filled with hope and opportunities through their perseverance.
The journey did not come without academic obstacles. The workload differed from their peers outside of the program, as they labored through intense college-level classes in addition to their regular high school course load.
“It’s funny having high school teachers tell you, ‘It won’t be like this in college,’ and you’ve already been to college,” Skakel noted. He emphasized that the heavier workload taught him how to manage his time well, a crucial skill upon entering college.
“I struggled with it, but I had so much support here that I was able to get through it,” Estrada said.
Despite the grueling workload, the students knew the work was worth the reward.
“It’s definitely worth it because we get all these opportunities passed along to take advantage of, and we see that it’s worth giving up our free time because it gives us an extra foot in the door,” Estrada said.
Skakel adjusted to the rigorous schedule knowing it would have to become a routine with which he would be comfortable.
“It was just something I did. It became kind of automatic,” he said.“We did a lot outside the college work we did. We also did a lot of community service events. We were always moving, and it was just a matter of life.”
One special memory for the two was the trip they took with Excelsior to Ecuador last summer. The program, Global to Local, immerses them in an environment much different from their own, learning how to create positive social change with the hopes of doing the same in Newburgh.
“I would see schools on TV that travelled abroad, and then suddenly I’m in Global to Local and I’m raising a ton of money and fundraising and talking to local businesses,” Estrada said. “I think Global Local was so important to my life because it shaped me in a way that I would have otherwise never been shaped.”
PTech Excelsior instilled values in the students that they can carry with them throughout every walk of life. Estrada and Skakel recognized the long-term impact the program will have on them.
“It taught me that I can shape my own future. I always knew that people had to do that, but it personally gave me the motivation and the confidence,” Estrada said.“I’m going into something completely unrelated to tech, but I’m taking every skill and every support system that I’ve gained here and I’m going to follow through with that mentality in college.”
“It’s definitely the life skills. I’m still going into tech, but I don’t think that’s the main aspect I’m taking out of this,” Skakel said. “Yes, I’ve discovered some interests along the way, but it’s more how to hold myself as a human being and how to compose myself and how to interact with others and a compassion for the community and an accountability level that you don’t have going into high school as a ninth grader. They teach you a lot.”
Both students especially focused on the endurance and unity they learned through the program in advising new students to the program on how to conduct themselves.
“Put aside the petty differences and realize that you’re all there for a reason,” Skakel said.
“Stick through it because it does get hard,” Estrada said. “But if you persevere through those bumps, you will see results and you will love yourself for making it through.”
Through their own perseverance, Estrada and Skakel now have diplomas to show for their work and intangible abilities to guide them as they begin their post-high school journeys.