At the 2024 High Potential Graduate Celebration, Students Mark ‘Carrying the Dreams’ of Loved Ones Across the Finish Line

For those first-generation and low-income students in the High Potential Program, Commencement has added weight. Forty-four HP members are graduating on May 25 —a poignant highlight in the Program’s 50th year.

by Hayden Royster, Staff Writer | May 24, 2024

The students recognized at the High Potential Program's 2024 Graduate Celebration made history, and not just within their own families. This year, HP graduates also represent the culmination of the program that has served first-generation and low-income students for half a century.

Forty-four students stepped onto the Moraga Room stage on May 22 to receive purple stoles embroidered with the words “High Potential Program.” Each was embraced by parents, siblings, best friends, mentors, and HP staff members Joy Aburquez MA ’19 and Gaby Bermudez.

In his closing remarks, Tom Brown—the former Associate Dean of Students who established the Program in 1973—put the moment in perspective. “Fifty years ago, I could not have imagined a day like today,” he said. “We used to have twenty students [total] in the High Potential Program.… Looking at that long list of names, all I could think of was how much you should celebrate each other.”

Students applauding at HP Grad Celebration 2024
Celebrating support: Emma Duarte ’24 and fellow High Potential graduates rise to applaud the parents, family members, and mentors who guided them along their college journeys. / Photo by Francis Tatem

Certainly, there was plenty worth celebrating. Joy Aburquez, the Associate Director at HP, honored numerous Peer Mentors who have guided HP students through their first year at Saint Mary’sHP Director Chameeta Denton MA ’10 also announced a dozen recipients of the Moonlight Scholarship, an award created in collaboration with acclaimed actor and HP alumnus Mahershala Ali ’96. Since 2017, the scholarship has provided above-and-beyond assistance to HP students in need. 

Awards were also conferred. Daniela Zavala ’24, a Business major and HP Mentor, received the Excellence in Leadership Award, presented annually to a student with exceptional commitment to the HP community. Briana Alexander ’24—a Biochemistry and Business Administration double major, Resident Advisor, and Team Leader at Jumpstart—was presented with the Dr. Dennis Memorial Award. Named after the late John Dennis, the beloved Collegiate Seminar professor and the first full-time HP Director who served from 1997 to 2005, the award is given to a student who embodies the characteristics of scholarship, leadership, and service.

The graduates recognized at this year’s celebration have accomplished a considerable amount—and they did not do so alone, emphasized Brown. 

“When you walk across that stage on Saturday, you’ll be walking across the stage carrying the dreams that the parents had for you, that your families had for you, before they even knew your names.”


Snapshots from the 2024 HP Graduate Celebration