Casey Barr Rios, Class of 2014: Dream Maker’s Dinner Speech

On behalf of the 340 students Student U currently serves and my pioneering class, the class of 2014 that will graduate in May 2014, it is an honor to stand before you today to express our collective gratitude for your belief and continued support in Student U’s mission and vision for Durham students. My names is Casey Barr Rios and I am a member of the original class of Student U, the class of 2014. Without your support, the past seven years of my life as a participant in this program would not have been possible. Thank you.  Without your support, all of the opportunities Student U that has given me to beat the statistics and become the college bound student that I am today would not have been possible. From our brand new after school program, the middle school and high school summer academies, high school college tours across the east coast, summer internships, and school based advocates, you have made this dream of Student U become a reality. You are Dream Makers. Your donations have empowered Student U students to dream fearlessly, discover our best selves, share our brilliance and achieve greatness. We are forever grateful.

Student U has taught me to how to own my education. When I started in the middle school program, to be honest, I wasn’t excited about having to do work during the summer. However, when I realized that the program would give me the chance to get a sneak peak at material for the upcoming school year and solidity the academic gains I made the previous year, my attitude began to change. Instead of being upset at the fact that I had to do classwork during the summers, I became eager to learn from a group of enthusiastic teachers. The positive energy and excitement that our teachers brought to the program was inspiring. These teachers were taking time out of their summer vacations to change our lives.

All of the experiences I have shared with teachers at Student U are memories I will never forget. One teacher who stands out in my mind is Ms. Jenny Hinkle. At one point during middle school I was failing my math class and needed extra help. Ms. Jenny was the first one to respond and offered her assistance. She came to my house twice a week for a couple of hours tutor me. She taught me the concepts I was confused about in class while giving me the confidence I needed to succeed. Ms. Jenny became really involved in my life, not only during Student U hours, but also outside of it. She constantly checked up on how I was doing academically, as well as, emotionally and socially. She became a big sister and role model to me. When I turned 15, Jenny flew to Panama for my quinceañera. When Jenny got married, I was invited to the wedding. Your donations and support gave me a big sister. Your donations all allow teachers, like Ms. Jenny, to provide students like me the individualized support we need to own our education and succeed in school and beyond. What makes Student U so special is that every one of my classmates has their version of Jenny, a teacher, or many teachers who we now consider family. Thank you for making this possible.

As I was about to submit my first college application in my College Bound 101 class, I was overwhelmed with joy and deep appreciation for Student U and the opportunities, support and memories it has provided me over the past seven years. Often times, we only take the time to thank those that we physically see working for Student U and forget to appreciate all the donors who have given so much for the program to continue. Your support of this program allowed it to become the amazing family that it is today. Now, I am the first Student U student to receive a pay check from Student U, as a staff member for the after school program. I hope to teach in our middle school program as I become a college student just like Ms. Jenny, ready to make a difference in the lives of others. Every day I see all the hard work and dedication every single member of the team puts into this program. Every day I see students just like me whose lives are going to be changed forever because of Student U.  I assure you that your donations are in good hands. It is inspiring to me to work with a staff that genuinely cares for each and every single student and believes in their success. I am a living and breathing example that this program, this community, this family absolutely works and your support is actively changing the lives of Durham students. Thank you for making my dreams and the dreams of Student U come true.

Casey Barr Rios


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