Syana Ortega speaking at podium

Reading Scholar Syanashailyn Ortega offered remarks during the Berks County Community Foundation’s dinner to celebrate Thun Award winners, Carl and Kathleen Herbein, this spring. The award includes a $5,000 grant to support an organization of the awardees’ choice. The Herbeins chose to award the 2018 Thun grant to Alvernia’s Reading Collegiate Scholars Program.

“Good evening everyone. I am honored to be here today representing the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program and accepting this award on its behalf. 

For those of you who are not familiar with this program, I get to give you a little bit of insight into how it is changing the narrative for us ‘Reading kids.’ Oftentimes when people speak about the city of Reading or the Reading School District, there is a negative connotation, whether they are referencing the poverty rate, rising teenage pregnancy or the percentage of students dropping out of high school. The odds are against us from day one simply because of the environment we are exposed to, and for some kids, that’s all they need to quit the fight. 

I can tell you though, my story and the story of many others is quite different. I was raised in a single-parent household where making ends meet was almost always a struggle. There were school years where there was no money to buy clothes or sneakers, but as kids, we never really noticed. My mom made it her mission to shield us from what was going on and always said, ‘School is all you need to focus on.’ 

I share all of this with you so that it is easier to understand why receiving this scholarship was so monumental. I had the right work ethic, but like many students, it was the finances that gave me trouble. Our narrative at the end of high school would go one of two ways: we’d find a full-time job and be stuck in a cycle of trying to make ends meet, or we’d ‘get lucky.’ 

My narrative went a little differently: I was blessed with an opportunity thanks to Alvernia. Alvernia said to me, ‘We believe in you; so here is the pen, you get control of where this story goes, and we can’t wait to read it when it’s done.’ Thankfully though, whenever I or any of my fellow scholars started to lose faith in how great our story could be or whenever we struggled to keep writing, we had a network of Alvernians right there to help us pick that pen back up. 

I am the first person in my family to graduate college, and as my mom has put it ‘Someone from our bloodline is going to change our socioeconomic status, and that didn’t happen by accident.’ She is right; it happened because Alvernia took a look at me and said, ‘I believe in you.’ 

So I want to say thank you to Dr. Flynn and the Alvernia community, and I have always awaited the day where I could say thank you to the most important woman in my life, my hero and my best friend, my mom: thank you, and I love you.”