By Alexandra Werner Winslow
BU News Service
Mayor Martin Walsh may have been billed as the honoree at Bottom Line’s annual fundraiser Wednesday night, but his real job was to introduce Porsha McConnell.
Born to addiction, raised by her grandmother, older siblings and a family friend, McConnell drew two standing ovations from a packed dining room at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center Wednesday night.
“I was exposed to trauma long before I experienced triumph,” said McConnell through tears from the podium. “Now that I’m at Bridgewater State University, obtaining a degree will mean gaining the power to control my own life.
McConnell is one of the 2,000 low-income and first-generation students in Boston that Bottom Line is guiding into and through college. Founded in 1997 by former guidance counselor Dave Borgal, Bottom Line is a response to Borgal’s frustration at the miniscule number of college graduates from low-income families.
“The educational field has really changed in the last couple of years,” Borgal said. “Now people are recognizing that college is key.”
Among those advocates is Walsh, who reminded the fundraiser’s attendees of his parents’ immigrant origins and the obstacles unique to first-generation students during his remarks.
“Filling out the Common App, the financial aid forms: That’s intimidating,” said Mayor Walsh. “Bottom Line is helping students take advantage of opportunities in a way I never did.”
Walsh spoke just a day after a bill to give students access to debt-free education at Massachusetts public colleges and universities arrived in committee, and although Bottom Line is funded almost entirely by private donation, the 11th annual fundraising dinner was packed with city officials.
Bottom Line pulled out all the stops to solicit donations from its own crucial partners, featuring a live band, white-tablecloth dinner, rumba performance and live auction. Hosted by Charles Bailey-Gates, the live auction drew more than $1.3 million, a record for Bottom Line.
For alumni and current students of the program, however, the dinner was about recognizing the counselors who get them into and through school.
Andrew Phong, a senior at Suffolk University, said he applied for Bottom Line only because his older brother, who was already part of the program, had a counselor who took an interest in him, too.
Several years later, Phong was debating whether to change his major at Suffolk, and two counselors not assigned to him volunteered to join the conversation he was having with his counselor, tripling the support.
“It feels elite to be part of Bottom Line,” said Phong. “I’m starting with a tech company when I graduate, but after all they’ve done for me, I want to be a counselor someday.”
McConnell is no exception. Maintaining her composure through an emotional speech, McConnell didn’t succumb to tears until describing Sheryl Rosenberg, the Bottom Line counselor who supported her while at Bridgewater.
“When I got sick, Sheryl stayed in touch with my professors and sent me flowers. She called me every day,” said McConnell. “She guided me not because she had to, but because she wanted to.”
Like Phong, McConnell is clear on her career goals.
“I want to be a Sheryl to a young Porsha,” McConnell said.