Ayden Roberts wanted to be an advocate for mental health for those like her — young and from rural areas, where access to mental health services is limited.
Roberts, 19, from Parsonsfield, Maine, wanted to attend college to become a counselor, but financial limitations nearly stopped those college dreams in their tracks.
That was, until Roberts — through her mentors at Sacopee Valley High School — was selected as one of 17 inaugural recipients of the University of Southern Maine (USM) Promise Scholarship.
The Promise Scholarship is a collaborative effort between the USM Foundation and benefactors Richard and Carolyn McGoldrick of Scarborough. Working with youth development organizations across Maine, the fund helps identify disadvantaged youth who dream of attending college.
Students are awarded an annual scholarship for the four years they attend USM aimed at reducing —or eliminating — their need for any student loans. Today, there are 31 students receiving benefits from the scholarship.
“It shouldn’t be a burden between choosing to go to college or not,” she said. “Programs like The Promise Scholarship and these people who want to invest in our education are absolutely amazing.”
Access to education, service to others and seeking opportunities were prevailing themes of a celebration of The Promise Scholarship held Thursday, Sept. 12 on USM’s Portland Campus: "Seizing the Opportunity: Why Education is the Pathway to Success."
The event brought together the 31 Promise Scholars, members of the community and guest speaker Dajuan Eubanks, president of the Maine Red Claws and member of the USM Foundation Board. Eubanks is a former NCAA Division I basketball player for Rice University, a Harlem Globetrotter and co-founder of Blue Wave Basketball, a Maine youth development program.
Eubanks spoke to the crowd of his own chance for success. Growing up with a single mother and never knowing his father, the chance to play Division I basketball led to his earning a business degree, providing an educational foundation to excel in the business world.
“I look at my bio,” Eubanks said, listing his many accomplishments, “But I wouldn’t be able to do any of that without an education. It wasn’t the basketball; it was the education that allowed me to get where I am today.”
Eubanks encouraged today’s Promise Scholars to be proud of themselves to be opportunists as they embark on their educational journeys.
“Give yourself the opportunity to achieve success,” he said. “Understand the opportunity you have right now and be part of a legacy. And I believe this program can truly be a legacy for this community.”
Eubanks also lauded USM for creating The Promise Scholarship to address societal challenges, calling now a “pivotal year” for the program.
“USM is stepping up to be a leader in this community,” Eubanks said. “For the first time I saw an institution outside of my own looking to make a difference for the right reasons. I listen to some of these kids and say, ‘They are the future of this community.’”
Roberts also offered advice to the incoming cohort of Promise Scholars, saying that, while the Promise Scholarship opened doors for her education, it was up to her to take those opportunities.
“The best advice I can give is to take all those opportunities that come your way,” she said. “Just remember that it’s not always on paper, it’s about the person who you are.”
By Alan Bennett // Office of Public Affairs