Paying it forward: John Marshall graduate speaks about Rotary mentorship program STRIVE
"When you find yourself in a place where you can give back, please do," Robert Bouapaengphan said. "Maybe one day you'll be the adult that you needed when you were a kid."
ROCHESTER — Looking back, Robert Bouapaengphan knows the difference it can make for a student to have someone pushing them forward.
A 2008 graduate of John Marshall High School, Bouapaengphan spoke on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, about his experience in the STRIVE program, jointly hosted by Rochester's Rotary Clubs. The program, which pairs adult mentors with high school seniors, held Wednesday's celebration for students currently in STRIVE.
"Believe me when I say there are genuinely good people out there who want to see you succeed," he told a room of students and mentors.
The STRIVE program started in Rochester in 1999. The acronym stands for Students Taking Renewed Interest in the Value of Education.
Bouapaengphan told the story of growing up as the son of immigrant parents, struggling to connect in school, and, ultimately running into the law.
In spite of all that, a secretary in the school's principal's office took the time to get to know him. She nominated him to become a mentee in the STRIVE program. Even though he continued to face some challenges before eventually finding his footing, he knows the difference that act of kindness made.
"I often wondered why my life was so different and if I'd been born into a different family I'd be happier," he said before going on to thank that secretary from high school. "You became an adult that I could trust — someone who didn't judge me."
Today, Bouapaengphan is a mortgage banker in Rochester. And now more than a decade removed from his own experience in the program, he has joined Rotary with the hope of motivating today's generation.
Throughout the course of the evening, the program handed out scholarships and recognition to students from the city's high schools.
"Let's recognize these students who made a decisive, mature decision to improve their grades," said Mike Becker, a Rotarian and STRIVE Mentor who emceed Wednesday's event.
Even though the program has been helping students for more than 20 years, this year's class of seniors has had an exceptionally bumpy road getting to graduation, given they experienced both a global pandemic as well as a recent cyberattack on the school district.
Angel Ames is a John Marshall student and mentee in the program. She said the STRIVE program helps students stay on track despite all the obstacles they've experienced.
"We didn't have Chromebooks for almost a month, so we couldn't do any homework," she said about school during the cyberattack. "(STRIVE) kind of motivated me to try work to graduate."
Bouapaengphan had multiple things to say to the STRIVE students during Wednesday's event: Don't let high school define you. Don't give up. Always do your best.
He also told the students to help others in the same way they are being helped. That's what he has started to do, some 15 years after he was one of those high school students himself.
"When you find yourself in a place where you can give back, please do," he said. "Maybe one day you'll be the adult that you needed when you were a kid."