Last Thursday evening the Scarsdale STEP Board celebrated the graduation of Robert Lee. Robert spent the last two years with host family Nan and Lee Berke and their son Steven. The evening was filled with toasts and speeches about the past two years that Robert spent in the Scarsdale community. Robert’s family joined the festivities and looked forward to his graduation.
Debra Hyman, STEP Board Member spoke on behalf of the Board:
“Robert: The day you have been waiting for is almost upon us! And it is with great pride, and not just a few tears, that we celebrate you, your many achievements while here in Scarsdale, and launch you into the next chapter of your life at Vanderbilt University.
Two years ago you came to Scarsdale as a finalist for the STEP program. You were nervous for sure, this was such a huge step, meeting all these new people, leaving your home town, your family and Craigmont High School for a scholarship in a suburban NY school so far away. When we met you at Valerie’s house, we saw a confident young man with a very positive outlook and fire in the belly, coupled with humility and understanding of character and a desire to achieve and set high targets and goals. Little did we know how far you would go, and how deeply you would impact our community.
In just two short years you have:
Been a high achiever in all your subjects, with strong grades and moving up levels in several subjects including math and science, earning the respect and admiration of your teachers, advisors and friends.
You have been an active volunteer at Scarsdale High School: a valued member of community service clubs including Hawthorne Cedar Knolls, Global Camps for Africa, Cooking for a Cause, Midnight Run, Invisible Child, and becoming a leader in others – most notably with Habitat for Humanity, the Prom Committee and the Senior class Play (in which you were terrific as an admissions officer, by the way! We see a future for you as a volunteer in Vanderbilt’s admissions office!)
You were active with the Scarsdale Congregational church. You were the first Step scholar to travel abroad with the language exchange – making lifelong friends in Scarsdale and Spain and impressing teachers and advisors alike.
You won six volunteer service awards, and the Rotary scholarship for outstanding contributions through community service.
You got in shape: you learned how to swim, hike, and you ‘became half the man you used to be’ through exercise and healthy nutrition.
You became a wine expert by working at Zachys during the 2014 holiday season.
You learned to navigate public transportation in NYC during senior options without getting lost in queens, a major triumph!
You gained admission to your dream school on full scholarship, and then went further to win an Ingram Scholarship, a highly prestigious award that recognizes your academic strength combined with your dedication to community service. This scholarship is given to those who seek to make public service part of their profession. Plus, you had your interview via Skype while you were in Spain!
Finally, you are the founder of what is now called Robert’s Bucket List – a list that we will always maintain as a testament to your thirst for experiences in your community, the arts, and everything New York.
As board members we couldn’t wait to hear your presentations at our meetings. We knew there would be new projects, experiences, goals and skills that you would breathlessly describe to us with a twinkle and a giggle. Here at STEP we live the expression ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and we know you lived it. Robert, you spent time with so many board members and people in the community and learned from every one, appreciating their gift of mentorship. Board members looked forward and sometimes competed over spending time with you, you are that popular! You learned how to volunteer and fundraise, share your talents with others, which is an inspiration for those who will follow you. You took advantage of every opportunity that STEP has to offer, and turned around and made us proud.
Tomorrow you will officially become a member of a very proud group: you will be a STEP and SHS graduate. A few of us here are also alums (raise your hands!) who have a feeling that your portrait may one day hang on the SHS alumni hall of fame! Until that day, know that all of us here will be cheering you on! Robert, you are a gift and a joy. Keep your sharp mind, positive energy, big heart and selfless attitude focused on growing and learning and drinking in all Vanderbilt and Nashville have to offer. They are fortunate to have you for the next four years because we know from experience here in Scarsdale that you will leave them changed for the better!
Special thanks go to Nan and Lee for being such a sensitive, giving and loving host family. The Berkes are the luckiest people in this room for having shared this journey with you and been your guides during these two formative years. And they will certainly be your second family for the rest of your life. We also want to thank Steven for his great work being Robert’s brother and incoming President of the STEP club along with Andrew Braun. I also want to personally thank Nan for being our Co-Chair – her advice is invaluable from the perspective of a host mom, she is grounded and thoughtful, organized and sensitive and we are so fortunate that she is part of our team. Thanks also to Peter and Vivienne as our other partners on the executive board.
Congratulations to Felicia and Robert on raising such an amazing son and sharing him with us. We are proud to have called him our own these last two years and we will treasure his time and accomplishments here. We share with you all the pride you feel on the occasion of his graduation, and in the accomplishments we know he will achieve in the future.
And thanks to the Hospitality committee for arranging this event, to the Rodman family for hosting this celebration and welcoming the Lee family, and to the teachers, advisors, STEP board, business leaders, and donors who do so much to support the scholarship program, now going on its fiftieth year.
And finally, to Robert: while you leave us on Sunday and are moving on to college, remember us back here in the Dale! Come back and visit us anytime, there may be a few things left on the bucket list! You are family, and we look forward to seeing and hearing from you."
Scarsdale's Student Transfer Education Plan (Scarsdale STEP) program was founded in 1966 by Eric Rothschild, one of Scarsdale High Schools prominent history teachers (Mr. Rothschild continues to be a guiding force for STEP as a member of its Board). STEP's original goal was to share the educational opportunities at Scarsdale High School with students from segregated Southern schools which had limited resources for minorities. Over the years, STEP has expanded its reach to include promising students of color throughout the United States (including Native American students). Graduates of the program have gone on to attend prestigious colleges and universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Fisk, Ithaca, Harvard, Lehigh, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, Villanova, George Washington, Williams, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale. Many STEP alumni have continued their education through the graduate level, pursuing law, medical, business and Ph.D. degrees.