Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun joins the 2014 Torch Scholar Program graduates on stage at Thursday's luncheon celebration.

When he reflects on his per­sonal and pro­fes­sional growth in North­eastern University's Torch Scholar Pro­gram, two words always come to Shaun Hamilton's mind: oppor­tu­nity and transformation.

Hamilton, DMSB'14, shared his story with his friends, family, and peers at a lun­cheon in the Raytheon Amphithe­ater on Thursday afternoon—a day before Northeastern's 112th com­mence­ment exer­cises. The fes­tive event was held in cel­e­bra­tion of the fourth grad­u­ating class of the pro­gram, which sup­ports first-​​generation, low-​​income stu­dents from diverse back­grounds who exhibit poten­tial in non­traditional ways. This year's class of 11 boasts a 100 per­cent grad­u­a­tion rate.

“Over the past five years, my peers and I have become so much more than stu­dents of this insti­tu­tion,” Hamilton said. “That's what is so remark­able about North­eastern and Torch. Our stu­dents have become so involved, and so engaged, and so empow­ered that it tran­scends a tra­di­tional col­lege education.”

Launched eight years ago, the Torch Scholars Pro­gram sup­ports indi­vid­uals who have over­come excep­tional odds and who demon­strate the poten­tial to excel aca­d­e­m­i­cally. The pro­gram is ded­i­cated to closing the achieve­ment gap for first-​​generation students.

Three stu­dents in this year's grad­u­ating class—Hamilton, Tyrene Soler, DMSB'14, and Yvette Almonte, SSH'14—were part of this year's Hunt­ington 100, which honors extra­or­di­nary seniors and under­classmen who excel in var­ious areas across the university.

“The Torch spon­sors look at this pro­gram as an invest­ment, and they impacted you without knowing you,” North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun said in his remarks. “Now go and impact the rest of the world.”

Almonte expressed her grat­i­tude for the oppor­tu­nity North­eastern gave the Torch Scholars to “kick down walls.

“My race, social-​​economic status, and immi­grant family are all alleged rea­sons why I should not be standing here today,” Almonte told the audi­ence. “Yet five years ago, North­eastern took a chance on an aspiring young Latina pro­fes­sional from Wash­ington Heights, New York.”

As an inter­na­tional affairs major, Almonte worked and studied in Armenia, Kenya, South Africa, and the Dominican Republic. While in Armenia, she devel­oped a human­i­tarian calling and inte­grated her­self into her transna­tional com­mu­nity. Later, she applied her new­found skills and mindset to her first co-​​op with a micro-​​financing insti­tu­tion in the Dominican Republic.

“I plan on always being involved with the pro­gram to help future torchies break down walls and achieve great heights,” said Almonte, who will begin her pro­fes­sional career as a risk man­age­ment ana­lyst for Willis, a global insur­ance bro­kerage com­pany. “Torch will always be my family.”

The luncheon's guest speaker, John Carlos, won a bronze medal in the 200-​​meter dash at the 1968 Summer Olympics. During the medal cer­e­mony, he and gold medalist Tommie Smith each raised black-​​gloved fists in salute of human rights.

In his remarks, Carlos encour­aged the scholars to become leaders and never let anyone get in the way of their goals.

“All these young indi­vid­uals that are grad­u­ating, they are seeds that will develop all over the world and even­tu­ally there will be a forest of them,” he said. “And when you reflect back to this day and the work that you have done, you will have nothing but pride.”

Photo credit: Brooks Canaday/ Northeastern University.