Applying to college can be as much as a journey as the college experience itself.
For Laressa Bordenave, the journey to college was unforgettable, as it came just a year and a half after migrating to America.
She still remembers fine-tuning her essays and trekking to Kingsborough Community College in the blistering cold to work on applications with her guidance counselor. Things were progressing on schedule, until Bordenave’s college application journey came to a startling turn.
Despite her promising grades, Bordenave spent months waiting to hear back from colleges.
Bordenave would discover, with great shock, that her guidance counselor never submitted her college applications, SAT scores or transcript.
“I didn’t understand what happened at the time,” said Bordenave. “I would never want my students to go through that.”
Bordenave got proactive. Her friend was in a good academic support program, so she sponged off advice, submitted the applications and completed the process herself. Soon, acceptances came pouring in.
Today, Bordenave advocates for HCZ’s high-school students, keeps them on task with their college applications and provides resources at the Employment and Technology Center (ETC). While acutely stressful at the time, her experience advocating for herself during the college application process has been a gift to her career, namely in reminding her the importance of learning self-advocacy as a student. As a former student advocate at ETC, Bordenave is proud to see her students take responsibility for their choices and make changes in their best interests.
“I want my students to know that they can take different paths to success — it’s the journey that really matters,” said Bordenave.
She knows journeys can be literal and life-altering. Bordenave was born in Haiti and relocated to Brooklyn after the earthquake in 2010. Her uncle took her in and enrolled her in the school where he taught.
“I didn’t get time to process everything,” said Bordenave. “It was an earthquake, then moving, then a new school, and then a new language.”
Bordenave studied conversational English in Haiti and, once living in Brooklyn, she became fluent through persistence and the support of those around her. She reinforced her skills by watching episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and devoting herself to her schoolwork, even though word problems were challenging. French and Creole-speaking students helped her translate in classes, and her teachers were patient — some even allowing her to take tests in French.
Now, she is part of a similar village of support at ETC. Students are excited to show Bordenave their progress, even though they know she will put them in the spotlight. She loves celebrating their successes with parents and staff. The ETC team will even pause the music that perpetually pumps through the site’s halls to announce a student’s college acceptance on the loudspeaker.
“[The students] try to act all cool and get embarrassed,” laughs Bordenave. “But they know we are proud of them.”
Yet, the work is not over.
“The journey just begins with acceptances!” Bordenave tells students. “Then you need financial aid, letters of recommendation. We have a lot of work left to do.”