AALEAD Alumni Pay It Forward

By Natie Hara, DC High School Program Coordinator

Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff and Youth

AALEAD has supported young people in the DMV region for over 20 years and on Monday, April 26th, three past AALEAD youth paid it forward, each bringing their unique perspectives to  our AALEAD Alumni Panel.  Coming from the Maryland and DC regions, they shared their experiences in AALEAD, how AALEAD has shaped them, and things they wished they knew before going to college.  Among staff members, one of the questions we ask ourselves is, “How do we know AALEAD is a good program?”  Seeing AALEAD Alumni volunteer their time to chat with current AALEAD youth and speak informally about their growth during and after AALEAD, answered that question.  Beyond the quantity of low-income and underserved Asian Pacific American youth we serve – witnessing youth highlight their memories of their coordinators, the relationships they developed with peers, the numerous events they have participated in, and how all of those experiences have changed their lives – it is clear that AALEAD has had a positive impact on each young person in our program.

Welcome back AALEAD Alumni!

AALEAD Alumni Alani, Yuanlong, and Destiny share stories of their lives before, during, and after AALEAD.

Question: How has AALEAD shaped you?

Yuanlong: “…for me [AALEAD has] been really important in developing my confidence in terms of being able to speak out, being outspoken, and being very vocal about my opinion and in settings like college.  I told Natie and some of the other staff members that I got a chance to attend a board meeting with all of the AALEAD Board members and the Executive Director and that was really cool and kind of scary because you’re like, ‘Wait, these are all super powerful Asians and like, what are they doing trying to listen to a high schooler?’  Just having that experience was really helpful.”

Destiny: “AALEAD had a similar impact on me as well. It created a foundation for me to become more of a leader. I used to be a really shy 6th grader when I first joined and gradually AALEAD helped build up my facilitation skills as well as my communication to the point where I was able to lead freely. Because AALEAD set that foundation for me, it shaped me to the person I am today.  It also helped solidify my path to become a graphic designer. The staff I had at the time really impacted me in that way and inspired me to continue what I wanted to do.”

Question: In thinking about your high school selves, what advice or perspective would you tell yourself?

Alani: “I feel like for the last years of my high school experience, I felt very stressed out and I wish I told myself, ‘Anywhere you go to college, you’ll be happy.’ I put a lot of pressure on myself to get into my dream school and all this kind of stuff and I needed to hear that any place I go, I can find happiness. Like I wish I could go back and tell 11th grade Alani, ‘It’s going to be fine. You’re doing what you gotta do. Don’t give yourself more stress.’”

Yuanlong: “I wish I told myself to be more proactive just in terms of going out and connecting with people like joining clubs and taking classes or trying to apply for different internships that I probably should have done my freshman year but didn’t. Contrary to what Alani said, for me, a lot of people before college said, “Oh, it’s fine if you don’t do anything. I know college is stressful and you’ll be fine,’ but I wish more people told me, ‘You have to take more initiative’ because that would’ve motivated me to find clubs that I could have found freshman year but didn’t or that internship that I could have gotten freshman year but didn’t or the class that I didn’t want to take because I thought it was hard or something. I would tell myself to be more proactive going into college and don’t be afraid to try to do everything. I think a lot of times people tell you to not do too much because it’s such a hard transition, but for me it would have helped to hear, ‘Try to do everything.’”

Destiny: “For me, I thought that I would be going to a specific university but I think that, as Alani said, I should have told my high school self that you’ll be happy at whatever school you go to. I didn’t get to go to my dream school because of funding but wherever you go you’ll be happy and I think my high school self really needed to hear that. It’s a bit heart-breaking when you can’t go to your dream school but if you have that clarification that you’ll be happy wherever you go, I think that’s the biggest thing that would make me a bit more settled now.”

For youth, the Alumni Panel was an opportunity to learn from AALEAD alumni, reconnect with friends, and ask questions about the college transition and life after AALEAD.  For staff, this panel shared a glimpse into the history of AALEAD and inspired us to keep supporting young people with spaces and opportunities to grow.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet some of AALEAD’s amazing Alumni and while things may have changed since the Alumni’s time in AALEAD, one constant will always be the vast support network created by staff, youth, and Alumni.  We are excited for our Alumni’s future and grateful that they were able to spend another afternoon in AALEAD programs.

Email Newsletters with VerticalResponse