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Ellen Degeneres and Walmart Make College Dreams Come True for Students

Ellen DeGeneres stands with students from Summit Academy on her set stage.

Imagine having the aspirations to attend college but knowing the cards are stacked against you to turn that dream into a reality. Currently, the biggest obstacle affecting future students is the affordability of attending college. According to a recent study by the Institute for Higher Education policy, the majority of students cannot afford 95% of US colleges.

Thankfully, students have access to financial aid – federal aid, scholarships, grants,  loans, and work-study – to help lessen the cost of college. Unfortunately, sometimes the available aid is not enough to cover the costs, leaving students unable to attend. For many high schoolers residing in Brooklyn, this is their reality; statistics show that only 4% of graduating seniors in Brooklyn attend college after high school. Yet, students from the Summit Academy Charter School are changing this statistic, thanks to their hard work and the generosity of Ellen DeGeneres and WalMart.

Earlier this year, Ellen and Walmart surprised the entire senior class at Summit Academy with life-changing news: they were all receiving four-year college scholarships! With the help of exceptional teachers and Ellen’s scholarship donation, 93% of Summit Academy’s seniors from last year are currently in college, a majority of whom have selected SUNY schools as their college choice.

Since then, Ellen created a six-week docuseries called “Summit” to follow six of Summit Academy’s graduates, who are all attending SUNY schools, on their college journey. Episode 1 deputed during the first week of November. Watch that below to get acquainted with the series.

The gift from Ellen, sponsored by WalMart, is the largest single gift the show has ever awarded, and the students’ expressed their gratitude upon hearing the news.

“I completely broke down in tears because I didn’t know how else to express my emotions. I was very honored to be a part of the whole experience,” said Quincy Phillips, who is currently a freshman at Purchase College.

“After I received my scholarship, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I had visited SUNY Purchase in the beginning of my junior year and I instantly fell in love with the college.”

“When she said four-year scholarship, I said this is crazy, this is amazing,” said Sharinel Nunez, who is attending University at Albany, along with her fellow Summit Academy classmates, Nyasha Biggs and Melick Lubin.

The “Summit” series also follows Keanna Pinckney who is attending Corning Community College, and Ruddy Green, who is enrolled at SUNY Broome.

“I’m going to miss being at Summit Academy. I love this school. This school is like my home.” said Pinckney. “They prepped me for college and now I’m going, so I have to show them all the things you taught me I’m going to do in college. You’re going to see how great I am at doing it too – this school helped me a lot.”

“I did grow up to have a bad GPA, and in my 12th grade year I worked hard. Now I can say I’m proud of myself. I worked hard for this moment,” said Green.

All of the graduating seniors from Summit Academy are thankful to Ellen for the opportunity to pursue higher education and give back to their communities.

“She’s investing so much time and money into us we can’t let her down,” Biggs said.

“You made our dreams come true,” said Lubin.

“Thank you once again to Ellen DeGeneres who will always be a special part of the Summit Family. She is incredibly gracious, genuine, caring and generous! She epitomizes our character traits we strive to instill in our scholars. She is the real deal,” stated in a Summit Academy Facebook post.

Keep an eye out for the remaining episodes of “Summit” on Wednesdays on Ellen for the next several weeks to watch these students and their journey with SUNY!

    Written by Julie Maio

    Julie is a Communications Assistant at SUNY System Administration.

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