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‘I Am … Unstoppable’

Future College Graduate Conference energizes Black and Hispanic high school males to pursue higher education

Posted in: Homepage News, University

A crowd of students direct their lighted phones at a man on stage.
Motivational speaker Brian Heat inspires the high schoolers to use college to power their dreams.

With the glow of their phones held aloft, more than 300 high school males energized the closing of the EOF Boys to Men Future College Graduate Conference by shouting affirmations for all that they are – “unstoppable, incredible and built to win.” It was a rousing ending for what Montclair State University leaders hope is the beginning of relationships that improve the college attendance and completion rates of Black and Hispanic males.

Montclair’s newly launched Male Enrollment and Graduation Alliance (MEGA) hosted the Boys to Men event on November 16 to inspire and motivate the students to attend college. “In this current climate, it is essential to support the high school-to-college pipeline and provide a platform where potential scholars can engage with each other, current college scholars and staff,” says Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Director Rahjaun Gordon.

The energy from the scholars, school leaders and speakers was palpable as motivational speaker Brian Heat encouraged students to follow their dreams. “Go where your heart beats,” he said. “You were born with a passion inside of you. Some of you want to be artists, architects, entrepreneurs, whatever it is, you were born with that inside of you.”

Daniel Jean, assistant provost for Special Programs, EOF and Academic Success, says access to high-quality higher education is the strongest path for motivated limited-income scholars to enroll and reach their aspirations, “but today, the success of males in college lags behind their female counterparts – with ‘cis’ and ‘identified’ Black and Hispanic male outcomes the most concerning.”

Among the pathways for Black and Hispanic male success, the Boys to Men event brought together students from 18 high schools for sessions related to financing college, the power of mentorship, effective decision-making and steps to forming a true brotherhood for positive peer pressure.

 EOF scholars get free hair cuts during an open forum at, a new concept on campus to promote male leadership while founder, EOF Counselor Jeronimo Valcarcel, far left, leads a discussion on financial matters.

For current Montclair scholars, EOF showcased, a community hub for males to build the bond that can lead to higher overall retention and graduation rates.

“The barbershop has been a pillar in the community for various urban areas,” Gordon says. “Creating this concept for college scholars allowed us to restore student engagement as well as providing a service. is an open forum and safe space for scholars to commune with one another and collaborate on pressing topics.”

The events build momentum for Montclair’s first MEGA symposium, which on March 3, 2023, will examine the “from prospect to active alumnus” pipeline to understand how best to recruit, enroll, retain and graduate Black and Hispanic males.

“The Boys to Men conference and MEGA symposium serve as critical components of the vision of Black and Latino male student success at Montclair,” says Administrative, External and Student Affairs Assistant Dean Carolina E. Gonzalez. “These gatherings are not only events, they are forums where students engage with one another, develop a network of peers with similar goals and see themselves as future scholars of Montclair because we value their talent and their place on our campus.”

Photo Gallery

Students light up their phones, encouraged by Brian Heat to recite: “I am unstoppable. I am incredible. I am built to win.”
Young men smiling.
A few of the 300 high school males react to advice to use their education to sharpen their minds and pursue their dreams.
Jose Aviles on stage
Barringer High School Principal Jose Aviles was among the speakers inspiring Black and Hispanic male success.
Assistant Provost for Special Programs, EOF and Academic Success Daniel Jean co-leads a newly launched initiative, the Male Enrollment and Graduation Alliance (MEGA) to improve the college attendance and completion of Black and Hispanic males.
Four students look out a window at the view of New York City.
High school students, encouraged to soar at the Future College Graduate Conference, take in the iconic views of Red Hawk Country from the top floor of University Hall.

Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren. Photos by John LaRosa.