A Love Letter to PAYS (Pomona Academy for Youth Success)

by Eisen Ipac ’19

Hearing timid knocks, I fumble for my phone, wondering what time it is. 6:30 AM. The knocks stop, so I quickly kick off my blanket and run to open the door. A tall girl with beautiful warm skin and a soft face looks at me with apologetic eyes.
“Hey Maeve, is everything okay?”
“Sorry to wake you up, Eisen, but I locked myself out again.” I smile and run down to get the master keys.
As the director of the Draper Center Sefa Aina always says, “PAYS is the best thing that Pomona College does,” and I could not agree more. PAYS, or Pomona College Academy for Youth Success, is a college access program that brings to campus 90 underrepresented students from around the local area. At Pomona, they live, learn, and experience college life for a month. They take classes with some of the most distinguished Pomona faculty, meet and make lifelong friends, and explore their different identities. As their RA for the past two summers, I have had the great pleasure of co-organizing some of the more fun events like the beach trip, movie and karaoke nights, and the annual talent show—as well as being available 24/7 if they happen to get locked out of their rooms.
Two days prior to the last day of the program, a very bittersweet PAYS tradition takes place: the Talking Circle. Each grade level (sophomores, juniors, and seniors) divide and stay in an assigned room for the next 1.5 – 2 hours. The talking stick, which is a PAYS shirt for that summer’s program, rolled into a stick, is passed around, and whoever has it can talk uninterruptedly (or choose not to) for as long as they (theoretically) want. This summer, I decided to stay with the seniors.
It was a very emotional session. A common theme that the seniors brought up when they spoke was that they were all inspired by another person/people in the room. They learned from each other, they looked up to one another, and saw each other’s potential better than they could see their own.
I wanted to respond to them now (and I hope some of them somehow run into this as they search through cyberspace):
Every single one of you is the reason why I can miraculously wake up before 8 a.m. over the summer but was never able to muster up the energy to even be functioning before 11 a.m. during my college semesters. You are the reason why I can get through a semester filled with stress, anxiety, and unslept nights. Each one of you has a story, some I have been lucky enough to hear, that is unique and makes you the amazing person you are. Each one of you has fought and won unseen battles, forced to live your everyday with courage and strength because that is what it took to survive, and pursued your dreams with the kindest, most resilient hearts.
So I hope that as you go on to college, you believe in yourselves as much as you believe in each other, as much as we the staff believe in you. I have been blessed with your stories, your friendship, and wonderful memories that I will forever treasure. Thank you, my loves, and I wish you all the best of luck.