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Op-eds, Opinions

Braga ’16: Brown at its best

Op-Ed Contributor
Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Last Friday, on your way to class or while dining at the Ratty, you may have noticed a large group of young, enthusiastic middle school students taking in Brown for the first time. These 48 seventh-grade students attend Roosevelt Middle School in New Bedford, Massachusetts and were visiting Brown on a trip sponsored by the New Bedford High School Young Alumni Association. Most of these students will be the first in their family to attend college, and this was the beginning of the conversation about applying to, paying for and attending college.

In January 2015 during my junior year at Brown, a group of recent graduates of New Bedford High School founded the school’s Young Alumni Association. Over the past two years, the organization has grown, and as alumni we have committed ourselves to ensuring that every student in our city has a real and equal opportunity to achieve success through education. As graduates of an urban school system, we understand the challenges that students in our community face, but we also appreciate the diverse, hard-working culture that makes New Bedford an exceptional place to attend school and to live. Through a combination of camaraderie and shared understanding, we empower students by encouraging them to set high standards for themselves and providing them with resources to help them to succeed.

I recall my own challenges at Brown that stemmed from growing up in a very different environment than most of my peers. At times, it wasn’t easy being the person who hadn’t traveled much, who worked and stayed home over spring break rather than take expensive trips and who didn’t come to Brown with all the gadgets many of my peers possessed. Fortunately, I had a strong core group of family, friends at Brown and mentors who made my Brown experience both enriching and very enjoyable. But, as I told the students from Roosevelt Middle School, my time at Brown made me realize the full potential of the worthwhile experiences I had accumulated growing up in a community like New Bedford. I also realized from my fellow high school graduates that I wasn’t alone in facing these challenges in transitioning to a college community that was, in some ways, worlds apart from where we grew up. Thus, as an organization, we decided to use our collective college experiences to help prepare students in New Bedford for life after high school and encourage them to be active on their college campuses and in their home community.

That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t attribute our success to institutions like Brown that help transform our various initiatives from thought to reality. On behalf of the New Bedford High School Young Alumni Association, I’d like to recognize and thank the individuals and groups at Brown who made last Friday’s trip possible. During the planning process, we received ample assistance from the Office of College Admission, which helped coordinate the visit and paid for the students’ lunches. Specifically, Matthew Price, associate director of admission, took time out of his busy schedule to run an exclusive information session for these students. Also, we are thankful to the for First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center for hosting a panel of Brown students who discussed their experiences as the first in their family to attend college. I would especially like to recognize UCS President Viet Nguyen ’17 for his work putting the panel together and opening FLIC to these students from New Bedford. Additionally, I’d like to thank Brown Dining Services for accommodating the students, and all other Brown personnel who made the visit a success.

Each member of the Brown community — student, staff, alums, faculty — can change the course of a young person’s life. The most inspiring words spoken at my commencement by far were delivered by Thomas Catena ’86, who addressed the class of 2016 from Sudan where he was administering medical care to less fortunate people living near his hospital. Catena encouraged us to spend our lives giving all we could muster to help those who have nothing. Brown’s willingness to open its gates to these students from New Bedford and use its vast financial and intellectual capital to extend a helping hand to those who most need support shows that Brown stays true to the words of Catena. That, in my opinion, is Brown at its best.

Justin Braga is a co-founder and co-chair of the New Bedford High School Young Alumni Association and a Juris Doctor candidate at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at

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