On May 15, Nobles celebrated the achievements and contributions of students of color in the the graduating Class of 2023 at the annual Freeman Legacy Dinner, named for former visual arts faculty member and esteemed artist Bob Freeman. Numbering forty-nine, this group gathered for an evening of joy and reflection with family, Class II students of color, and adults in the Nobles community.
Chief Equity Officer Edgar De Leon ’04 addressed soon-to be graduates onstage, recalling a conversation with a senior about diversity, equity and inclusion earlier that day. “We were talking about DEI and what it actually means—is it numbers? Is it programming, affinity spaces, or assembly announcements? What this Class taught me is that the answer to these questions is yes: It is all of it, because what we do—what you do—is work.” Acknowledging the challenges along the seniors’ journey, from Covid to racial unrest, De Leon said, “As you were searching or creating your voice, you were watching and learning. The fruits of those times came to bear in the last couple of years as you all as you pushed for a more equitable place.”
De Leon thanked the Class I students, saying, “You taught us what it means to be your authentic selves. Through your NED talks, artwork, conversations and assembly presentations, you taught us who you are and why you matter here. You taught us why violence against Asians matters; you taught that the African American story can be joyous; and you taught us about the vibrancy of the Latino culture. You always kept us honest. Sometimes discussions on equity and incluison can be performative but you held a mirror in front of us. There is always talk about legacy—how will this class be thought of? But to me, your legacy is that you always thought of others, not just yourselves.” He then expressed optimism about the junior class stepping up next to lead.
One such junior, Sheehan Pierre-Louis ’24, congratulated Class I and said, “I hope that my grade and future grades down the line can provide the same type of role modeling that the Class of 2023 has given us all these years.”
The evening’s Class I speakers included Christian Figuereo and Helen Cui, who both shared their experiences, advice and hopes for students at Nobles going forward. Figuereo spoke candidly about his struggles in the middle school transitioning as a student from Boston Public Schools; since then, he has learned to ask for help when he needs it, and encouraged others to self-advocate. He also expressed appreciation for adults in the community who helped him along the way, like counselor Dr. LaTasha Sarpy, Director of Academic Support Heather O’Neill, and his advisor, Nora Dowley-Liebowitz.
Recounting his experiences, Figuereo said, “You have to ask for help and be persistent. I make light of these situations, but this is a way I see things that happened before as obstacles to prove my achievements. As young POC [people of color] going into amazing universities, career paths, or our adult lives, we have to make sure we are heard and that no one can put our own concerns down just because we are who we are…once you get a grasp at the world we have surrounded ourselves in for the past two to six years, you have to use that to your advantage and seize opportunities you would otherwise never have gotten.”
Cui’s speech recalled how since childhood, she has come to better recognize racism and comprehend her own identity. As a child, Cui said, “Racism I saw didn’t feel like the racism I was taught to look for. It looked like short-tempered responses to my mother’s accented voice. It looked like being taken to be tested for English as a second language after growing up speaking English my entire life. It looked like being asked if I was siblings with any of my Asian friends. It looked like surprise when I told people I was born in Boston.” Once here, Cui said, “Nobles challenged me to ask where I stood in the grand scheme of things when other people had fundamentally different experiences…I learned from those around me the delicate and intricate complexities of the Asian diaspora.”
She also expressed gratitude for opportunities for intellectual discussions and exploration into complex issues around identity, like in De Leon’s and Alden Mauck’s Race and Identity class or Julia Russell’s English course on Black American writers. While at Nobles, Cui learned more about her own identity through processing difficult events like national hate crimes targeting Asians. “Shaken down to my very bones, I depended on my community at Nobles. A2A [Nobles’ Asian and Asian-American affinity group] became intimate, became quiet, became words of assurance shared between people who cared.” Addressing all the seniors, Cui said, “I don’t think there would have been a better Class to have dealt with those issues— I wouldn’t have wanted to have gone through those challenges with any other group of kids.”
Graduate speaker Chief Technology Officer Devareaux Brown ’97 credited Ekow Sam ’23 for sparking his speech about how Nobles has changed him, why he returned to work here, and why he stays. Brown’s Jamaican-born parents ensured he and his siblings had every educational and extracurricular opportunity; he entered Nobles as a member of the Steppingstone Foundation’s first graduating class. He initially experienced culture shock (he showed up in a pinstripe suit, his church best!) and said his bus ride felt “a portal to a different dimension.” However, over time, relationships with and support from caring adults who believed in him—Nick Marinaro, Alden Mauck, Tim Carey, and Ben Snyder, who later hired him—gave him a sense of belonging, confidence and connection. As a student, he said, “I grew to love this place. That love was born from the relationships I built with the people here: The people who took an interest in me, people who supported me, people who inspired me, people who challenged me to try new things.” Now, on Nobles’ administrative team, helping to drive the school forward, Brown told students, “As an adult in this community, what I’m really passionate about is thinking, ‘How can I be someone like that for anybody here?’ …so Ekow, to answer your question: That’s how it shaped my identity. It’s why I came back and it’s why I’m staying.”