Providence College Commencement 2013
Academic Lives of Meaning and Purpose
Sears ’13, ‘Leader of Leaders,’ will Join ‘Teach for America’
~ Vicki-Ann Downing, Writer
Providence, R.I. - Horton Sears ’13 will spend the next two years teaching mathematics to middle school students in Boston with the hope of inspiring them the way mentors once encouraged him.
Sears (Newark, N.J.) compiled an impressive resumé at Providence College. He majored in psychology and carried a minor in studio art, drawing in charcoal, chalk, and pencil. He sang tenor in the Footprints Gospel Choir. He gave campus tours with the Friars Club.
As a resident assistant for three years, he supervised students in residence halls. And he founded and coordinated the Horizons retreat and mentoring program, which helps multicultural students adjust to college life.
“Horton is a leader of leaders,” said Dr. Steven A. Sears, associate vice president and dean of students, who is no relation. “It seems that every member of the PC community knows him. When you mention his name you will often get a very similar response: first a smile, and then a remark, ‘I love that guy.’ He is such a quality human being.”
Horton Sears originally wanted to attend graduate school to study counseling. But Teach for America http://www.teachforamerica.org/ appealed to him. It’s a national corps of college graduates who commit to teach for two years to raise student achievement in public schools. The program is competitive, with applicants chosen based on academic achievement, leadership, and service.
While awaiting his specific school assignment, Sears is studying for the MTELs, the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure.
“I chose to teach math because, in middle school, that’s what I grasped the most,” said Sears. “I remember enjoying, loving math, all the way through school, even high school. I took into consideration my experience. Students in the inner city need help with mentoring, counseling, to know they can make it somewhere different. That’s where I came from, the urban inner city, Newark, and I received much of that mentoring while I was in middle school.”
Parents pushed him to succeed
The son of parents who emigrated in the 1980s from Guyana, on the northern coast of South America, Sears is a first-generation college student. He attended Catholic elementary and middle schools and credits his parents with making sure he excelled.
“They were on me all the time,” said Sears. “They pushed me to get serious. When I was just learning to write, if they didn’t like how I wrote sentences, or if I began them all the same way, then they made me rewrite them. They never did my homework for me. They made me work until it was done.”
Sears won a scholarship to Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange, N.J. High school marked his first exposure to students of other races — not just white students, but Latino and Asian students as well.
“I wanted a high school that wasn’t predominantly black. It was completely different, from predominantly black inner-city to a predominantly white suburb,” said Sears. “I could see the difference between the high schools my friends went to and mine. Some of my friends didn’t make it to high school. A couple of friends had kids before high school.”
Sears applied to PC at the suggestion of his guidance counselor and won a full-tuition Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship. He saw the College for the first time on Family Day for accepted students. It was only the fourth time he had visited a college and the third time his parents had been to one.
“I loved it from the minute I walked on campus,” said Sears. “My parents loved it, too. It was a good mutual feeling.”
His adjustment was helped by an orientation program he attended with other MLK scholars.
“I remember looking around and thinking that I was going to be with a group of minority students who were obviously smart, scholarship recipients who were leaders and did service, and that brought me up a notch,” said Sears. “I knew they would be friends for life.”
A founder of the Horizons program
At the end of his freshman year, Sears helped to found a program to help freshmen students of color build support networks with older students.
The student-run Horizons retreats are held each September at Camp Aldersgate in North Scituate, R.I. The moderator is Elena T. Yee, director of the Student Multicultural Activities Office and Balfour Unity Center. Mentors and mentees try to meet throughout the year for study groups and social activities.
During his sophomore year, Sears served as a mentor to freshmen. He was co-coordinator for Horizons his junior year and the main coordinator his senior year. Though originally open to students of color, the program is now looking to be open to all students, because “opening communication can only make the conversation better,” Sears said.
PC’s student population is about 13 percent students of color. Sears remembers occasions when his was the only black person in a classroom. But as he got to meet people, he got rid of a lot of misconceptions, and ultimately “it was great to know so many different types of people,” he said.
“You don’t just look for someone of the same color. You’ve got to branch out and meet people,” said Sears. “That’s the only way they’re going to get to know who you are, and the only way you’re going to discover things about yourself, by being in the presence of people who are different. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have loved college as much.”
Among other discoveries at PC, Sears learned he has a talent for cutting hair, so he hopes to get a barber’s license one day. He put his artistic skills to use creating posters to promote campus events. A reggae fan and a saxophone player, he created music mixes for dances for the Irish Dance Club, Board of Multicultural Student Activities, and the Motherland Dance Group. He was secretary of the Afro-American Society.
Though Horton Sears excelled in all his leadership roles, he always deflected compliments, offering credit to others, Steve Sears said. Once, when another student was hurt in a car accident, Horton stayed by the student’s side in the hospital for days until the student’s family could arrive.
“As dean of students I have the pleasure of meeting, working, and providing support and guidance to our students,” said Sears. “When it comes to Horton Sears, he has done this for me, and for so many of his peers. This man not only transformed as a person, he transforms all those around him.”