Tavares hopes her path to becoming a college graduate inspires others

Photo/Lara Tavares '15

In the span of six years, Lara Tavares ’15 has undergone a transformation. From a recent immigrant to the United States to a soon-to-be Brandeis graduate, Tavares now has her sights set on addressing issues of education inequality.
Tavares and her family moved from Cape Verde to Dorchester, Massachusetts, where they had relatives, in search of better opportunities when she was 15.
In spite of having loved ones close by, Tavares chose to go about making new friends and learning the norms of her new environment on her own terms.
“I had a pocket-sized dictionary that I read every day, I didn’t want to rely on people to translate for me,” says Tavares, who will receive a bachelor of arts in both Education and Sociology and a minor in Social Justice and Social Policy on Sunday, May 17. “I would try to memorize 10 words every night before going to bed. I wanted to learn on my own.”
Though learning a new language and adapting to a new country had its challenges, Tavares did more than adjust. She excelled in school and performed well in advanced placement classes, gaining acceptance to Brandeis as a Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program scholar--as well as becoming the inaugural recipient of the Joseph D. Warren MSW '72, PhD '83 Scholarship. Each year, 20 students are admitted to Brandeis through the MKTYP, a first year program for high school graduates who have shown outstanding academic and personal strength, but who have also had limitations to their precollege educational opportunities.  
“I had no idea about the college process or the education gap in America,” she says. “I didn’t know much about Brandeis, but when I told people I got in, their reactions were always filled with excitement.’”
Tavares says she has learned firsthand what makes Brandeis special. As the first member of her family to attend college, she was further helped by the Student Support Services Program. SSSP serves 150 students at Brandeis who are the first in their family to earn a bachelor’s degree or have overcome significant barriers to be at Brandeis. “
MKTYP gave me the unique opportunity to enter Brandeis University,” says Tavares. “And without the support I received from MKTYP and SSSP, my experience at Brandeis would not be the same.”
Tavares discovered her passion for helping others—specifically students who, like her, are concerned with the education gap—in her sociology and education classes.  She participated in a Justice Brandeis Semester, which opened her eyes to the differences she could make in addressing the education system’s shortcomings.
“I went to Mississippi through the JBS and studied education and civil rights,” says Tavares. “I studied education history and what hasn’t changed since the civil rights movement. I discovered that it’s something I was interested in. And being part of MKTYP and SSSP, I realized that the education gap and achievement gap is a serious civil rights issue.”
Tavares wants to be part of the solution that closes those gaps. Next year, she will attend Boston College’s Lynch Graduate School of Education, where she will study for her master’s in higher education administration. She also accepted a prestigious graduate assistantship with the BC College Bound Program, an organization that supports and encourages Boston Public School high school students to pursue a higher education degree. 
“My MKTYP and SSSP academic advisors were my role models,” she says. “They inspired me to want to become an academic advisor myself and be able to make a positive impact on other students’ lives the same way they impacted mine.”
“One way to solve education inequality could be through programs like MKTYP and SSSP,” says Tavares. “Once you give students the opportunity, preparation and financial support, you can have more students succeed and you close the gap.”
Tavares has big dreams, but in the short term, she’s trying to enjoy her last few days at Brandeis. That said, she often thinks about how far she’s come since leaving Cape Verde years ago and hopes she can inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

“Don’t let challenges stop you from going after your dreams,” Tavares says. “Focus on yourself and what you can do and what you want to accomplish. If you do that, you will overcome - limitations. Looking back, I feel accomplished. It wasn’t an easy journey. Everything happened so fast and I’m still taking it all in.”

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