On July 23rd, Breakthrough New York students Sabrina Carrero and Talib Lawal and
Breakthrough New York High School Coordinator (and FAO Schwarz Family Foundation
Fellow 2014-2016) Joseph Rosales visited the White House to take part in a conference
as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative. About 150 students from across the
country attended the event, which included workshops, a hip-hop concert, and a surprise
appearance by the President.
Carrero, a Posse Scholar, will start her freshman studies at Brandeis University this fall.
Talib, who spent the summer as an intern at the Clinton Foundation, will be starting as a
freshman at Franklin & Marshall College this fall. Talib wrote the following essay about
his experience at the White House.
My name is Talib Lawal. I began my Breakthrough journey as a shy yet motivated
student from Brooklyn, N.Y., in the summer of 2009. I came in full of dreams to be great
and successful. I wanted to be a Senator. I wanted to be the first black President of the
United States of America. I wanted to be different and accomplish more than what was
expected of me as an African American. I saw the visions. I dreamed my dreams. But for
it to be reality I needed the skills that would help me to become who I wanted to be, and
I needed to grow out of my shy shell for my voice and ideas to be heard. Breakthrough
laid the path for me and I followed.
During the summer programs and school year programs I was forced to work hard and
be attentive. I was forced to talk and speak out my ideas. This forceful push matured into
a strong partnership between Breakthrough and me that showed that no matter what, I
was going to make it and succeed. I not only learned how to be persistent and
conscientious, but I learned how to establish strong connections with those around, and
in the end I made friends that will last a lifetime.
When I was nominated by Breakthrough to attend the Beating the Odds Summit at the
White House I was extremely grateful and excited about this unique opportunity. My
experience at the White House was a once in a lifetime event that I will never forget. I
have been to the White House a couple of times for a regular tour, but to be there and
actually be recognized and noticed by the First Lady and President Obama was inspiring
and enlightening. I was able to hear about the challenges Michelle Obama faced during
college and how she overcame those struggles. One piece of advice that First Lady
Michelle Obama gave to me that I will always remember is, “Don't be afraid of hard
work...Do not be afraid to fail...And if you fail, then recover. Get over it. Get up, figure out
what went wrong, and go back in. If you fail again, get up, brush yourself off. You will fail.
You will fail again. You will fail some more. And the difference between that failure and a
failure is that somebody just stopped trying. So don't stop trying.”
This advice from Michelle Obama really resonated with me and it opened my eyes to
see that the only ingredient for success is hard work. Hard work is the absence of fear
and believing in the impossible. This event helped me to see college and the world in a
different light. I was able to network with unique and interesting students who possess
the same determination for success as I do. I was able to listen to Arne Duncan, United
States Secretary of Education, and his advice on financial aid and how getting into
college and completing it is definitely attainable. I also had the opportunity of receiving
college advice from E! News host Terrence Jenkins and performing artist Wale.
The highlight for me at this White House Event was the surprise appearance from
President Obama. My dream as a young boy was to become the first black President of
the United States of America; to be able to see President Obama in person, who was
able to break the barriers and become the first black President of the United States of
America, was very uplifting and encouraging for me. The advice from President Obama
that continues to motivate me is, “If you are willing to work hard and if you are willing to
dig deep, and if you’re willing to make sacrifices, and if you’re willing to embrace the
values that are best in us, there’s nothing that’s going to stop you. And you’ve got to set
your bar high... Look, if a kid born in Hawaii named Barack Obama can end up being
President of the United States and a young girl born on the South Side of Chicago can
end up being the First Lady there’s nothing you can’t do.
And hopefully this summit has given you some sense of the possibilities and also
hopefully it’s given you some relationships and some networks that you can now tap
because not only do I expect out of you individual success, but I also expect you to work
together to bring about some collective success.” The fact that Obama expects me to be
successful and to help others to be successful is an eye opener that the world needs me
to be successful.
I am thankful and humbled at this special opportunity presented to me by Breakthrough
New York, and it is an experience that I will never forget and will always look back to
when facing any struggles on my journey to be outstanding.