Shannon Jondro’s Booyah Bash Speech

As I look back at my life and the challenges that I have faced, it feels like a true miracle that I am here with you tonight, graduating from high school in a few weeks, attending the Naval Academy in the fall, let alone having the honor to give this speech tonight.

For much of my life, I’ve dealt with problems regarding my biracial identity. I was born into a loving, supportive family with an African American mother and a Caucasian father. As a result, I have always experienced inner controversy as to which race I would label myself. When filling out personal information forms, over and over I would find myself in that awkward position where the form asked for my race. I could only choose one – and I never knew which one to choose. Also, growing up has been difficult since there never seemed to be a place for me. My peers never embraced the fact that I was mixed race. They just rejected me because I would not, could not, choose one or the other. Classmates would say that I was too dark to be white or too light to be black. These comments only made me feel more isolated, with very few friends.

“I have always experienced inner controversy as to which race I would label myself… I could only choose one – and I never knew which one to choose.”

Along with racial identity, I also dealt with my shame about the fact that for many years I faced homelessness. My family already had a hard time keeping stable housing when we lived in Nebraska, but when we moved to Minnesota in 2005, that’s when it got bad. For roughly 3 years my family and I hopped around from house to house of family and friends; sometimes we had to sleep in the basements of churches just because we had nowhere else to go. As many of you know, homelessness means frequently changing schools; it also means loss – loss of friends, of beloved possessions, of stability, of memories.

All of these experiences gradually broke me and wore me down. Then came Breakthrough, my literal chance to break through. I believe that Breakthrough became something I relied on in my life, the one thing that never changed. Breakthrough believed in my potential and made me believe in it too.

“Breakthrough believed in my potential and made me believe in it too.”

Breakthrough certainly made me want to be more competitive academically. I know I may not have been a perfect student during my past 6 years of school, but Breakthrough made me strive to try to be the best I could. Breakthrough expected everyone’s best, and when you look around tonight at Breakthrough’s students, you see a group who is dedicated to performing at the highest academic level. Because of Breakthrough, I was motivated to succeed. I came to assume that, of course, I would go to college, the first one in my family to do so.

Because of Breakthrough, I’ve had enriching experiences that have really broadened my world – visiting college campuses, conducting mock trials, sitting as legislators debating a bill in the state capital. Breakthrough has led me to long term friendships with classmates who have similar goals of success, just like me. Isolation and loneliness were relegated to my past.

Also, by joining Breakthrough, I’ve noticed how my self-esteem, along with my self-confidence, has grown to a level that would’ve been unheard of for me just a few years before. There were so many “firsts”: speaking in public for the first time, performing with classmates in front of 700 applauding Breakthrough families for the first time, learning teamwork portaging canoes in the BWCA for the first time. All these Breakthrough experiences helped me gain the confidence I needed for my future.

Thanks to Breakthrough, I didn’t have to worry about being defined by my race. Thanks to Breakthrough, I was allowed to think and dream big. Thanks to Breakthrough I see a successful future for myself. Thanks to Breakthrough, I am prepared for the work that is soon to come at the Naval Academy. And, most especially, thanks to all of you and the support you have given to me and my classmates. You have made it possible for us students to change the trajectory of our lives, to become confident and ambitious individuals, to break through homelessness, poverty, and low expectations to be successful in college and in life.

Read Raven Pillmann’s Booyah Bash Speech

Breakthrough Twin Cities

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