About 100,000 Florida high school graduates will start their college journeys this fall. Each is forging a unique path and facing different challenges that must be overcome to achieve their goal of a college degree.
Anthony Ransom-Cason, a recent graduate of Gainesville High School, is one such student. As Florida CAN’s nominee, he recently got the chance to join over 130 college-bound students at the White House for the third annual Beating the Odds Summit. Anthony was joined by Ian Fletcher, Vice President of Education and Talent Alignment with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, which also coordinates the Alachua County Education Compact.
The convening, which is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher and Better Make Room campaigns, celebrated recent high school grads from across the country who have overcome significant barriers to pursue a college degree.
A leader in the making
For Anthony, growing up as an only child in a single-parent home presented its challenges. Still, his mother knew that with the right opportunities and positive encouragement, Anthony could excel. After spending most of his childhood in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, Anthony and his mother moved to Gainesville the summer before his junior year of high school to be closer to family.
To help Anthony thrive in his new environment, Anthony’s mom focused on getting her son involved in quality extracurricular activities and spending time with positive role models. Although Anthony’s mom never attended college herself, she very much wanted her son to have that opportunity.
Midway through high school, it was not a given that attending college was in Anthony’s future. He was far from a bad student, but he had never fully applied himself academically. He was sure of one thing, though: he had a calling to lead and serve others, inspired by a number of close family members who had served in the military.
A few months after moving to Gainesville, Anthony met a man at his church named John Alexander. Alexander was the director of the Reichert House Youth Academy, an after school program for middle and high school youth. Alexander encouraged Anthony to attend, believing the program would be a good fit for him.
Reichert House was a game-changer for Anthony. After observing the need for leadership among his peers, Anthony established the first student government at the academy. As Reichert House’s first student body president, he set up fundraisers to pay for such items as school supplies and college tours for his fellow students.
As Anthony’s leadership skills and self-confidence grew, he began working harder in school. His grades continued to improve, even while continuing his work at Reichert, pursuing other leadership opportunities and joining the JROTC during his final two years of high school.
Anthony’s teachers at Gainesville High took notice of his hard work and dedication. He received the Principal’s Leadership Award, Medals of Excellence and the Military Order of World Wars for his service as a Navy JROTC lieutenant. He even landed an internship at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce a few months before graduating. In his few months there, Anthony has been coordinating the Forerunner’s Coalition, an organization run by student leaders from Santa Fe College, UF, and high schools in Alachua County, to help connect youth to the resources they need to achieve postsecondary success.
Regarding his own college path, Anthony’s first choice was Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, which offered him an ROTC scholarship to start this fall.
Earlier this spring, however, Anthony faced a difficult and unexpected decision. His mother suffered an aneurysm in December, which made the potential move to Tallahassee difficult. Anthony instead made the decision to stay close to his mother and attend Santa Fe College.
White House opens doors
Standing in the White House with over 130 college-bound students last month at the Beating the Odds Summit, Anthony was moved by the sacrifices and struggles his fellow attendees had made to make it to college. One piece of advice that struck a chord with Anthony came from First Lady Michelle Obama, who spoke about her own experience as a first-generation college student. During her talk, she emphasized the importance of speaking up and asking for help from faculty, counselors and peers when faced with a challenge in school.
“I realized that with every single accomplishment I’ve made, I couldn’t have done it alone. When I needed help, I asked for help,” Anthony said. “My peers and I can have too much pride to ask for help. I think it’s one of the major problems when it comes to school and academics.”
The highlight of Anthony’s trip to Washington was getting the chance to meet and network with military personnel, secret service agents and White House staff. He was also inspired by his fellow attendees, all soon-to-be college students like him.
“I met a lot of students going to Ivy League schools and a lot of students going to community colleges,” said Anthony. “At the end of the day, they all have a similar mindset, which is that they want to serve their nation and community and do the best they can to help other people.”
With help, Anthony discovers path and reaches higher
Anthony gives much of the credit for his success to God, his mom, his experiences at the Reichert House and the Gainesville Chamber.
One of people who witnessed Anthony’s transformation was Jeremy Johnson, an IT consultant he met at his church who helped mentor him during the last two years. Jeremy helped Anthony through the college application and financial aid process and saw first-hand the challenges that Anthony faced.
“There had been times [Anthony] questioned if college was for him,” said Jeremy. “He doesn’t have many examples within his family of individuals who have set out to get a two-year or four-year degree. I encouraged him to believe in himself.”
Jeremy is thrilled about Anthony’s accomplishments and the future ahead of him. “He is determined, and his goal is to make an impact.”
Anthony is now preparing himself for his first semester at Santa Fe College, where he will study organizational management with a focus in human resources. After two years, he hopes to get his associate’s degree and transfer to the University of Florida.
Florida College Access Network wishes Anthony—and all Florida college students—the best of luck as they embark on the next step of their educational journeys. With all that Anthony has accomplished so far, he is certain to achieve his ultimate goal—a college degree and the opportunity to make a difference for his community and our nation.