The class of 2020 is missing out on moments, both big and small, that come along with graduating high school or college, and for first-generation college students, that sting is even harsher.
Bottom Line, an organization dedicated to helping low-income and first-generation college students prepare for and excel in college, hosted its annual fundraiser honoring more than 300 graduating seniors in its program, and while the night looked different than planned, it was all about celebrating the graduates. As education advocates and first-generation college graduates themselves, Devin and Jason McCourty hosted the night's events, offering advice along the way.
Though the gala was hosted virtually instead of in a ballroom on May 5, Devin and Jason dressed to the nines, as they video-chatted from their respective homes on a livestream feed that was open to the public. With plenty of practice from their weekly Double Coverage podcast, which is now recorded via video chat, the McCourtys didn't skip a beat.
"A lot of people look to us for inspiration and motivation. That comes with pressure, but that also comes with an enjoyment of being able to be someone that people look to for inspiration and for motivation, that continues to get them up every day and helps them to work towards their goals," Jason said. "I think it just changed the trajectory of our family. When I'm talking to my kids, they all know that Devin and myself, we went to Rutgers. They've been back there, they've seen the facilities and everything of that nature. They talk about college without really even knowing that there was a time before when everybody wasn't going and that wasn't fully the expectation."
In addition to taking questions from alumni of the program, board members and event sponsors, the McCourtys interviewed Malachi Hernandez, who recently graduated from Northeastern University as a Torch Scholar, and he shared what Bottom Line has meant to him throughout his educational career, as well as support from advocates and allies. And as it turns out, one of those supporters was Devin himself.
At the Patriots Foundation's annual Thanksgiving in a Basket event while Malachi was still in high school, he met Devin, and that exchange, even years later, stuck with him.
"I remember I was talking to you a little bit about what the college program and how I nervous I was. Your words really stuck out to me. Because of the fact that you had shared with me to just continue pushing through," he said. "Don't give up. Being a first generation college student, it's powerful and it holds a lot of weight."
Last year, Devin and Jason gave a commencement address at their alma mater, and while the livestream wasn't a graduation, the McCourtys still offered up advice to those who are taking the next step in their lives.
"The one good thing about us being stuck in the house is you have time. You have time to think about what you want to do. You have time to go over things. You have time to review. You have time to plan ... Maybe your first job opportunity won't look exactly like you thought it would look. Maybe it will. You just don't know. I like to think of it as being a rookie on a team. You might have been the star in college, but you're entering a new team in football you have to just do whatever role the coaches have for you and make the teammates trust you and you guys have to do the same thing. Believe in yourself and just continue to prepare."
As one moves forward, it's just as important to remember that others may be watching and taking note of their actions, Jason said.
"I think there are people back home in your community, whether they're older than you, younger than you, they're gaining motivation just by watching you live out a dream," Jason said. "We can never lose sight of that. By you just chasing your dream, you're motivating others to do the same. Just continue to reach back out."