BRIDGEPORT—“This is really what we’re all about—forming people,” said Principal Henry Rondon at Kolbe Cathedral High School in Bridgeport, reading with enthusiasm a recent email from a KCHS ’14 alum, Shyheim Snead.
Snead, who graduated magna cum laude from American University in Washington, D.C., this May, had emailed guidance counselor Sarah Mastrone to give her a quick update.
A scholarship student at Kolbe and the first in his family to attend college, Snead had received the President’s Award, American University’s highest award. The President’s Award recognizes an undergraduate whose exceptional accomplishments represent the highest ideals of the university.
In his four years at AU, Snead was also named a 2017 Truman Scholar, was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, and completed a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship at Princeton University.
“Kolbe meant so much for me and my family,” he wrote, praising the academic and faith-based education he received as preparing him for the challenge of higher education. “Strong education and belief in my potential made the difference.”
“We offer Catholic values—but these ought to be called human values,” said Rondon, reflecting on Snead’s comments. “We’re building the whole person.”
Rondon noted three elements needed to build a successful future. The first is academics—the skills to face a changing world. “Skills are more than content,” he emphasized. “By the time they graduate college, they’ll be applying for jobs that don’t exist yet. We want to give them the skills to go to the next level.”
Academics don’t exist in a vacuum. In forming the whole person, students are introduced to a God who loves them and to a belief system to help them make responsible decisions.
Moving beyond abstraction, religion classes at Kolbe then challenge students, “What can you do, as only one person, to make things better?”
These elements struck a chord with Snead, who grew up in the difficult East Side of Bridgeport. “We didn’t have a lot of money, and my family worked several jobs to make ends meet,” he said. “They always pushed me to do my best. They always encouraged me.”
The guidance counselors in his middle school saw his potential and told Snead that only a private school could build on his talents and lead to a successful future. “I had no idea how we could afford tuition, and I had no idea about scholarships. I just straight up applied to every school I could,” he said. “With Kolbe, it was a perfect marriage. I grew up in a house led by a devout Baptist woman from Georgia. Spirituality and religion always underpinned everything we did.”
He found that the religion courses at Kolbe “gave me the words for what I learned at home, and I loved Kolbe’s spirit of service. It felt so right.”
Over his four years, Snead contributed hundreds of hours of community service. He was on the student council, led the Youth and Government Chapter at Kolbe, headed service work projects at the school and the Students Against Distracted Driving (SADD) campaign during prom time. He spent hours at activities throughout the state of Connecticut—while being active on the track and cross-country teams, becoming cross-country captain his senior year.
All this would not have been possible without scholarship aid. Many of the young men and women who find their place at Kolbe Cathedral depend on financial aid to help with tuition. “Scholarship money is extremely important for our students,” said Rondon. It is a tribute to Kolbe’s success that many of its generous donors are alumni, recipients themselves of financial aid during their years there.
“I got a really great scholarship, 90 percent of tuition, and that increased over the years.” said Snead. “It lifted a tremendous barrier for me and made Kolbe affordable for my family.”
Even so, he adds, “it was hard for my mom to put money away for school, especially since I have three younger brothers.”
Scholarship opportunities are also crucial as students look ahead to college. Guidance Counselor Mastrone was the 2018 Tim Russert Making a Difference award winner. With her assistance, last year’s graduating class at Kolbe Cathedral High School earned $14.1 million in scholarships.
Snead was confident he could get some sort of scholarship, but when he began to apply, Mastrone told him he was aiming too low. “I can’t speak highly enough about Sarah Mastrone,” he said. “When I was feeling vulnerable, she gave me the confidence to shoot for the stars. With her help, I was offered several full scholarships. Then she took the time for one on one counseling to sort through the offers and find the best fit for me.”
American University was looking for leaders with a commitment to social justice. Applicants to their Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars program had to demonstrate their commitment to the betterment of the human condition. The program’s scholarship provides full tuition, fees, books, room and board.
Out of 2,300 applicants, Snead was one of five people accepted for the scholarship.
“I am immensely thankful to the whole KCHS family,” wrote Snead in his email. “Without your guidance, belief in me, and constant, unequivocal support, I am not sure I would have made it to AU, let alone accomplish all that I was able to during my time there. All I can say is: thank you.”
Following graduation, Snead was hired by the Obama Foundation to work full-time in Washington with the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an experience he calls formative, challenging, and immensely rewarding.
“Paying it forward and service to others is what got me here, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon,” Snead said. He hopes that his current work will prepare him professionally as he looks forward to graduate school.
(Students like Shyheim Snead depend on scholarship aid to fulfill their potential. To donate to Kolbe Cathedral’s scholarship fund, contact Principal Henry Rondon: Hrondon@kolbecaths.org or 203.335.2554.)
By Pat Hennessy