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College-bound youngsters get advice on their next step

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks with a student at a college fair in St. Albans.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Young people from southeast Queens exploring their academic options got a visit, and plenty of advice, from city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott at a college fair in the St. Albans Congregational Church Saturday.

The church’s 14th annual college fair, at 172-17 Linden Blvd., drew students from throughout Queens and gave them the opportunity to hear Walcott’s story, which took him from St. Albans all the way to the office of schools chancellor.

“I’ve always been just a kid from southeast Queens. I’m you,” said Walcott. “I knew I wanted to do something that would benefit the community, but I had many stops along the way.”

Walcott told the students of his early days at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. The chancellor said he found the school at a college fair similar to the one they are attending and it was the perfect fit for his life at that time.

“I knew I wanted to go away, but I didn’t want to be too far from home. I also knew I wanted a campus environment, but I didn’t want it to be too large,” he said. “I found the school through exploring and asking questions, which is what all of you should be doing today.”

While at Bridgeport, the chancellor said he learned the importance of becoming a well-rounded individual. He advised the students to try things out of their comfort zone and to take on challenges they would normally shy away from.

He recalled volunteering to act as master of ceremonies at a school event — even though at the time he was terrified of public speaking.

“Put yourself in challenging positions in order to make yourself a better student, a better person and more well-rounded,” he said. “You will become a stronger adult with more success. Couple that with a college degree and the world is yours.”

The chancellor told the students about his getting a master’s degree in social work and from there becoming a worker at the United Way. From there, he was president of the New York Urban League, where he eventually met Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Walcott then became Bloomberg’s deputy mayor, which led him to the schools chancellor’s office.

“I could not have done any of this without a college degree,” he said.

The chancellor stressed the importance of a diploma in today’s world, saying that his father, who dropped out of high school, would not be able to get a job and support a family these days.

“My father was able to support us as a high school dropout, but times have changed,” he said. “It is more and more difficult to get a well-paying job without a degree. Life requires you as students to go on to college, finish college and perhaps go on and earn higher degrees.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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