Graduates show off creativity after completing yearly summer program

July 01, 2019

PBLA graduates as of June 2019

At the St. John Francis Regis Chapel at Regis University on Thursday, a group of young scholars offered a glimpse of just how bright their futures are.

Not only did each member of this special group of Porter-Billups Leadership Academy graduates sing the praises of a classmate, but the students also displayed their unique blend of creativity and compassion.

Edoardo Castaneda and Cameron Kelley delivered a speech together, switching off in a fast-paced, back-and-forth performance. Marthaly Rubio turned her classmate Valentino Salas’ nickname of Tino into an acrostic, referencing Salas as trendy, identifiable, natural and optimistic. Pastor Niyogusengwa spoke about Sam Cleven with an upbeat, rhyming, poetic rap.

The group of soon-to-be high school seniors graduated as part of the 24th class of the Porter-Billups Leadership Academy, a yearly three-week academic program that trains and develops at-risk and low-income youth.

For all their creativity, the students’ speeches had one highlight that was decidedly more straightforward — but no less heartfelt. Asher Seybert eloquently thanked his mother for the years in which she spent six hours in the car each day driving him from Colorado Springs to Denver to attend the program. Seybert then spoke about classmate Janae Joshua in a way that brought Joshua to tears.

“I’ve been in high school for three years now, and I’ve spent all of that surrounded by fake people who couldn’t really care less about how I’m doing,” Seybert said. “So when I come to PBLA every year, it’s a breath of fresh air. Nowhere is that contrast more stark than [with] Janae. She’s one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known.”

Beginning during the summer before fourth grade, students attend PBLA on Regis’ Northwest Denver Campus every summer before their senior year of high school. At the end of the program, if they qualify academically, they are eligible for scholarships that cover up to full tuition at Regis. More than 30 PBLA graduates have received undergraduate degrees from Regis.

“Regis University is honored to be affiliated with the Porter-Billups Leadership Academy and we are proud of our shared commitment to develop you as leaders and learners, not just for today but for tomorrow,” said Regis President the Rev. John P. Fitzgibbons, S.J. “We have shared a mission to bring out the very best in you as citizens, students and laborers to make the world a better, kinder and more humane place. We stand for the most vulnerable.”

PBLA students learn key concepts about communication, the sciences, social justice and more. This year, class programs included a product pitch competition as well as a marketplace, in which students created and sold products that garnered more than $850 in one-day sales.

Along with Colorado locals, PBLA students travel from states such as Texas, Utah and Missouri to attend the summertime courses. Sixteen students graduated from the program this year.

An impressive 100 percent of PBLA students have graduated from high school since 2002, the first year PBLA graduated a class. The number of students has grown from 22 when the program began to 215 this year, co-founder and director Staci Porter-Bentley said.

Former Regis men’s basketball coach Lonnie Porter and former NBA star Chauncey Billups, who lead the academy as co-executive directors, celebrated each student with a hug on Thursday.

“We prepare [PBLA students] for life, to be people who are going to go out there and succeed and compete,” Billups said. “That’s what I’m always most proud of — we focus on everything that you need in life.”

Established in 1877, Regis University is a premier, globally engaged institution of higher learning in the Jesuit tradition that prepares leaders to live productive lives of faith, meaning and service. One of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation, Regis has four campus locations in the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs and extensive online program offerings with more than 11,000 enrolled students. For more information, visit