A 2014 Bedford High School graduate told participants in Saturday’s 10th annual Tenacity Challenge that “you have been embodying the meaning of tenacity long before today, and you are transcending every limit placed on you with a lot of grace.”
Cydni Burton said when she was invited to be the guest speaker, she planned to recount some of her personal experiences. But after witnessing students’ responses to the competition, she opted to laud the participants, “to tell you all how overwhelmingly impressive you are.”
The Tenacity Challenge is described as “an annual academic scholarship competition for teams of Latino and African-American students from urban and suburban high schools across Massachusetts.” (It is formally the Jon Sills L&A2 Tenacity Challenge, honoring the retired former BHS principal and school superintendent who launched the event in 2011.)
Burton began her Bedford career in kindergarten—she told the Tenacity Challenge that she is a “METCO lifer.” In 2018 Burton graduated from Spelman College, listed by several major rankings as number one among Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
She now works with college applicants, particularly with students who are first in their families to enroll in higher education. She also is preparing to pursue a master’s degree.
During Saturday’s challenge, 12 student teams from throughout the region addressed this year’s theme of “The Impact of Systemic Racism and Covid-19 on Black and Latino Communities.” Part of the competition was to “conclude with a few proposals for addressing two or three of the areas of systemic racism that you will have identified as contributing to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19.”
“We live in a country that isn’t prepared to have these conversations. You just did this seamlessly.”
Burton noted that she was a participant in an early edition of the event. “I don’t recall the Tenacity Challenge being anything like this. We did not have these sorts of engaging prompts. No one knew how to make PowerPoints.”
“I do work as a college admissions consultant, mainly with high-achieving students across the country who hope to attend elite universities,” the speaker said. “But watching you all critically engage in higher-level thinking is more impressive” than almost all of her usual interactions. “You remind me of being in upper-level college classes.”
Burton singled out the art segment of the competition. “You all used different media to demonstrate your understanding of the human condition. You took complicated concepts, interpreted them, and then translated them. Those aren’t skills that most people have.”
“The college admissions person in me is always looking at life-building skills,” Burton said, and the Tenacity Challenge fosters several, such as:
- Goal-setting and follow-through, “required by every industry;”
- Project management abilities;
- Juggling responsibilities, which is “half of being an adult;”
- Learning how to collaborate. “That’s sharpening your emotional intelligence. Consultants get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars teaching executives to be empathetic. You’re already doing it;”
- “Learning how to be brave and vulnerable and to present to a Zoom room full of people This is not typical of a high school experience.”
Burton also applauded the participants for “finding a way to be joyful and prideful,” despite the emotional load of the Covid-19 pandemic and the murders of unarmed Black men.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763