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On June 5, 2015, a small class of students attending Simon Youth Peabody Learning Academy received their high school diplomas. Present for the ceremony were Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt, Superintendent of Peabody Schools Joe Mastrocola, Peabody High School Principal Eric Buckley, and President of SYF Dr. J Michael Durnil. WHDH’s Victoria Warren served as keynote speaker.

Since 1998, the Simon Youth Foundation (SYF) has provided educational opportunities for at-risk youth nationwide through two initiatives: the establishment of non-traditional schools (SYF Academies) and the creation of a robust post-secondary scholarship program—the effectiveness of which were evident during Friday’s ceremony, when 15 graduates walked away with a collective $100,000 in scholarship funds. To date, the Peabody Learning Academy, located inside the Northshore Mall, has seen 70 students graduate, all of whom received scholarships to attend college.

Congratulating the graduates, Mayor Bettencourt called the Academy “a true treasure of our city.” Likewise, Superintendent of Peabody Schools Joe Mastrocola recognized the support it provides to struggling young people working toward a high school degree saying, “Simon Youth Foundation is an organization that cares about kids.” Principal Eric Buckley added, “To see your smiling faces here today makes all the hard times worth it.”

And smiling they were, as each student was presented with at least one, if not two scholarships made possible through the joint efforts of East Boston Savings and North Shore Community College. Burtons Grill also plays a special role in helping young people through the program by providing both scholarships (through an annual fundraising event) and employment opportunities. Ten scholarships were distributed among the students this year. “We are helping get you started,” said Anna Kulakowski, senior vice president of East Boston Savings, “but what’s important is that you finish.”

Funding for the SYF program comes from many sources, including “Wishing Wells” stationed throughout the mall, which SYF President Dr. J Michael Durnil made note of, saying, “We don’t always get what we wish for, we get what we work for. Today is an intersection of wishes and work.”