A first-generation Bronx student recently achieved his dream of being accepted into Yale University on a full scholarship with the support of Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.
When Michaell Santos first learned about the Turn 2 Foundation and its Jeter’s Leaders program that fosters academic achievement, healthy lifestyles, leadership development and social change among high school students, he knew he was meant to be a part of it. Santos applied and was accepted into the four-year program upon his freshman year in high school, and went on to experience various enriching initiatives, including community service projects, national youth leadership conferences, career building workshops, college tours and more — experiences that Santos said transformed his high school career and inspired him to determine a path for his future.
As he prepares to graduate high school in a month and become the first in his family to attend college, he is eager to study political science at Yale University in the fall and is focused on his next goal: pursuing a career that enables him to implement policies and change that will positively impact his Highbridge community in the South Bronx.
“I feel privileged to have this opportunity, but I also feel proud because once I step on the campus, I represent this community and the Bronx,” Santos told the Bronx Times. “This foundation over the past four years, they’ve invested in me and my education.”
Santos, 17, a senior at Bronx School for Law Government and Justice, was born in the Dominican Republic and lived there until he was 7. He was raised in the city of Santiago and has fond memories of playing in the streets with his cousins.
When Santos emigrated here a decade ago with his parents Alex and Glennis, he didn’t know a word of English. Needless to say, things were not easy.
“It was really cool moving to NYC, but getting used to it (the language) was hard,” he said.
Santos said the fast-paced life, culture and how different NYC was took a while to get used to. With the help of classmates and teachers, he began to better understand English and by the end of elementary school he felt pretty confident with it. According to Santos, his fourth grade teacher, Miss Vellez, really had an impact on him because she “believed in him.”
Learning English wasn’t the only obstacle he faced, however. While his dad was a mechanic back home and is one here, his mom sacrificed her career as a pharmacist.
“I feel in a way, really proud of my mom,” he said. “I don’t know if I would be able to do that.”
Santos said people always spoke about college at his school and it was always his dream to attend Yale and become a lawyer.
During his freshman year in high school there was an assembly about the Turn 2 Foundation and its Jeter’s Leaders program — Santos was instantly hooked. A few of his friends were already peer leaders in it, including Shayra, who recommended the program, especially the college overnight trips.
Santos immediately signed up.
“I think the program appealed to me because I saw that it was going to give me a well-rounded experience,” he said.
The Jeter’s Leaders are inducted as incoming freshmen and remain in the program throughout all four years of high school. The Jeter’s Leaders meet on a bi-weekly basis and work on assignments and projects aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles, serving their communities, mentoring, achieving academically and furthering their professional development. They also bring their message of social change to cities across the country through initiatives that include the Jeter’s Leaders Leadership Conference and the Social Change Project.
“College was something I knew about, but I got to visit actual campuses,” he said.
He looked at several schools, but in October 2021 visited Yale and instantly fell in love with it. So, through the program he applied for the Quest Bridge scholarship, which is a national nonprofit whose goal is to connect low-income and first-gen students with partner colleges and universities.
In December he got into Yale and was over the moon.
“I barely slept for those three days waiting up to Dec. 1,” Santos said.
Santos plans to study political science and pre-law and one day be an attorney who can help people who struggle like those in his South Bronx community.
He said getting a full ride to one of the best colleges in the country wasn’t just a proud moment in his life, but his family’s as well. His parents sacrificed for him and taught him to always strive for his dreams.
“They were happy not just because their hard work paid off, but my hard work paid off as well,” Santos said.
Reach Jason Cohen at email@example.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes