Pivot Program Celebrates Graduation of Class of 2021

Posted in News

Photos: Phil Humnicky/Georgetown University

A group of Pivot Fellows celebrated their graduation from the program at a ceremony on June 30, marking the culmination of the nine-month business and entrepreneurship program and looking ahead to what’s next.

This year’s graduation recognized the 10 Fellows in the 2021 graduating cohort and 16 Fellows in the class of 2020, whose graduation last summer was online due to the pandemic. 

“I honor each of the Fellows today for pushing and not giving up, knowing that better is around the corner,” said Kaamilya Finley, a 2021 Pivot graduate. “You are allowed to sit here today screaming, ‘I did it!’ Success looks good on you!”

The program’s staff congratulated the Fellows for their dedication to their own futures and investments in one another.

“Eight months ago most of us were mere strangers and today, we gather here as a family to celebrate your incredible achievements,” said Aliyah Graves-Brown, Pivot’s Assistant Director of Program Management.

Pivotal Moments

Several of the speakers throughout the ceremony highlighted the pivotal role that the program serves in the lives of its Fellows. 

Georgetown Professor Jeanine Turner, who works with the Fellows on their personal narratives, said at the beginning of the program, she often hears stories centered on their incarceration and what led them there. The Pivot Program helps them redefine themselves by their accomplishments and talents.

“Over the last three years, I have seen students, one by one, start owning their successes and experiences,” Turner said. “Instead of their crime being the pivotal moment of the story, they each started identifying when they made the decision to take control of their life and change the way they looked at the world.”

In her remarks, Finley said the Pivot Program creates an opportunity for Fellows to disprove the stigma and misconceptions that often prevent returning citizens from achieving their career potential. 

“We have been labeled with scarlet letters: F-E-L-O-N-S,” Finley said. “Pivot has allowed the world to see us differently, reigniting our passion to succeed, and giving us the chance to show our brilliance.”

Charles Hopkins addresses audience at graduation

Charles Hopkins, another 2021 Pivot Fellow, said his “pivotal moment” was his realization of his ability to control his days and his future for the first time in decades.

“In prison, your ‘what’s next’ is always given to you,” Hopkins said. “Your time is regimented: the minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years are all captured in a set of rules and regulations.”

But in the Pivot Program, his assignments, activities, and future plans all shared a common thread: choice.

“Pivot helps us to create a mindset of ‘What will you choose next?’” Hopkins said.

Overcoming Adversity

The 2021 Pivot cohort faced particularly difficult challenges while in the program, both personally and as a cohort.

“Some of these students had entered the prison system prior to the emergence of the internet and were released into a digital world. I saw their determination as they figured out LinkedIn and smartphones,” Turner said. “Several students had to deal with the challenge of homelessness while simultaneously navigating school and getting their homework in each week.”

Kaamilya Finley discusses overcoming struggles during her time with Pivot

Alongside their rigorous schoolwork and internships, the Pivot Fellows faced the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, a national racial reckoning, a precarious political environment, and an insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.

“You have faced tremendous challenges as you navigated your academic and work obligations in the throes of a global health pandemic and a racial pandemic as well,” said Rosemary Kilkenny, the Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at Georgetown University. “However, despite the tough days that you all faced, you kept your eyes on the prize, and here we are urging you on to live your lives with pride and purpose as you move forward.”

Finley said that through it all, the Fellows bonded together despite only meeting in person a few times prior to graduation. 

“We supported, encouraged, mentored, tutored, and made sure we each made it across the finish line all on Zoom the entire time,” she said.

Pivoting to the Future

Charles Jones, Deputy Director of the Division of State Initiatives in the D.C. Department of Employment Services, commended the Fellows’ perseverance and commitment to the program.

“I know each of you has learned so much and grown through this process—and are now looking forward to what’s ahead,” Jones said.

For many of the Fellows, their next chapter is focused on growing their careers and entrepreneurship ventures. Several Fellows, including Finley, graduated with permanent job offers from the companies they interned with through Pivot. Others are taking the ideas they showcased during the Pitch Competition and working to launch their own businesses. 

Many share a commitment to the ongoing fight to destigmatize second-chance hiring and lower the economic and professional barriers for other returning citizens.

“I am determined to have a purposeful career that is focused on developing innovative solutions that improve education, job opportunities, and remove barriers for incarcerated individuals and returning citizens,” said LaTasha Moore, a 2021 Pivot Fellow who recently concluded her internship with the American Prison Data Systems.

In his remarks, Hopkins said the Pivot Fellows have forward momentum that will carry them to the next job, business, or opportunity.

“This expectation comes from the belief that we will always be progressing, always producing, always growing, so it will always be the next,” he said. “Why? Because we are Georgetown Pivot strong.”

Professors Josh Miller and Alyssa Lovegrove hug 2021 Pivot Fellow Michelle Marshall