First Literacy Fellows Celebrated at Faneuil Hall

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Flanked by busts and portraits of great American scholars and orators, Kherrina Francis took the stage at Faneuil Hall and offered her own inspiring words of encouragement to her comrades.

“We all have this finish line that we have to get to,” she told her peers, many of whom sat with spouses and children. “Our achievements began with a dream – and those dreams can come true, when we possess the will to work hard and the desire for excellence.”

Francis was one of 33 recipients of a $1,500 scholarship from First Literacy, a Boston-based adult education program, honored Thursday at a ceremony held for the first time in the Greater Hall of Faneuil Hall.

Kherrina Francis, recipient of an early literacy scholarship, addresses the congregation in the great hall of Faneuil Hall.

Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

She and her fellow adult learners leave for college or a vocational training program after completing Adult Basic Education or First Literacy English learning programs.

Mayor Michelle Wu attended the ceremony, saluting the scholars for their accomplishments.

“You represent so many different fields of study, expertise and passion – different countries of origin, neighborhoods and parts of our community,” Wu told the scholars and their guests, many of whom had tears in their eyes. “You represent our future. I am grateful to you for your leadership, and we are grateful to partner in continuing this tradition of the City of Boston in paving the way so that we can all keep the door wide open for those who come after us as well.

Christele St. Jules beams as she poses with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu at the inaugural Literacy Scholarship ceremony at Faneuil Hall.

Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

Jim Nolan, president of First Literacy, said many academics have to balance their studies with raising families or working part-time.

“We don’t have young children here,” he said. “A lot of [our students] are working mothers, working fathers, juggling a lot of things. But we’ve seen people go through the whole process and get their associate’s degree or even a four-year degree.

First Literacy awards the scholarships to a select group of students each year, Nolan said.

The ceremony was held for the first time in person since 2019. And the historic Great Hall only added to the excitement of the occasion, Nolan said.

“It’s inspiring that these researchers come here,” he said. “How symbolic is it to be in the Great Hall?” So, yeah, the venue made it a bit more special than previous years.

Viktorija Barone, now enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College, said the First Literacy program was essential in preparing her for her studies.

“It really helps a lot to become a student if you’re older,” she said. “I really appreciate the fact that this type of scholarship exists.”

Djemsson Laurent received a scholarship along with his wife, Fernande Antoine, after the two immigrated from Haiti last year. He said the scholarship has significantly improved his family’s prospects in the United States.

“It’s a huge step in our life,” Laurent said. “It will change a lot in our future. It is very, very important, and we are very proud of it.

After the awards ceremony, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu (second from left of podium) posed with the group. Also pictured are Chairman of the Board Jim Nolan (far right) and Program Director Bryan McCormick (partially masked).

Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

Camilo Fonseca can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @fonseca_esq.

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