FORT WORTH – The challenge of empowering the leaders of tomorrow got a big assist from the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday when the organization donated laptop computers and many other essentials to 31 college-bound graduates of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

Accompanied by the music of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Mavericks’ CEO Cynt Marshall addressed the graduates and served as a walking, talking example of what it means when somebody says, it takes a village.

“This brings me full circle,” Marshall said. “I was the first in my family to go to college. And looking at what the Mavs have done to help get these girls started, it took me back to when I was in high school and the struggles we had and the odds we had to overcome and all I could think about when I look at these people is: that’s the village.

“Literally, I had a village that invested in me and now I’m a part of a village, an organization, that can help these girls get where they need to go.”

The 31 graduates represent the entire 2019 class of seniors at YWLA and 100 percent of them will be going to college. They each announced their college destination on Thursday at Fort Worth Convention Center.

YWLA opened in Fort Worth in 2010 and is part of teh Young Women’s Preparatory Network. Of the graduating class this year, 87 percent of them will be the first in their family to attend college, according to Kendra Strange, the YWLA college board adviser.

Among the more than 20 colleges they will be going to: North Texas, TCU, Grambling, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Iowa State and Sam Houston State.

Academic scholarships of varying amounts have been earned by all of the graduates.

What the Mavericks did simply added to that impressive scholastic achievement by the graduates. Gift packages, which were handed out by numerous members of the Mavericks’ front-office staff, were given to all 31 of the graduates, which included not only apparel from the college the graduate will be attending, but also laptops from Dell and an assortment of gift cards and other surprises.

Presenting sponsor Capital One also helped provide $350 gift cards that the students can spend however they wish.

There were remarkable moments. Emma Chavez told the emotional story of how her father – the only income earner in her family – fell on hard times and that her college dreams were dashed.

With her father taking video from the audience, Chavez had the crowd of about 500 choked up as she reached graduation and will, indeed, be heading to Sam Houston State.

And there were others embarking on long journeys. Eunice Cardona, who will be attending Iowa State, said it wasn’t that hard of a decision to head out of Texas for college.

“It’s only like a 12-hour drive, so it’s not as far away as it sounds,” she said. “And it’s such an unbelievable place.”

Marshall delivered a strong message about her youth, which included difficult times, including seeing her father shoot an intruder into their house in self-defense. Marshall had to have police escort her to school for a time.

In high school, she attended and was the head cheerleader, despite having a broken nose. She credited teachers, counselors and coaches for not holding anything against her.

“They didn’t care that I was from the 94804 zip code,” Marshall said. “They didn’t care that I had a brace on my nose. It’s as if they were looking at a graduate of the YWLA.”

Marshall stressed her “HASU” philosophy – Help A Sister Up – to the new graduates. Then, she closed her riveting speech with eight “rules of the road” for the new graduates.

1. Never forget where you came from. If you don’t remember that, you might not get where you want to go.

2. Always do the right thing and tell the truth.

3. Know the Crystal balls that shatter from the rubber balls that will bounce back to you.

4. Keep everything in perspective. The light at the end of the tunnel might be a train, because bad things sometimes happen to good people. But how do you respond to those things.

5. Be nice and caring.

6. Play team ball. Together, everybody achieves more.

7. Make a difference.

8. Show up and dance. Don’t just be at the party. You earned the right to dance.

Twitter: @ESefko

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