Eight years ago, I went to an anniversary celebration at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, not knowing what to expect. The occasion was a get-together to mark the first year of a pioneering program called Rutgers Future Scholars (RFS). Before me in a large lecture hall was a scarlet sea of middle school students, squirming in their seats and wearing T-shirts that proclaimed I Am a Rutgers Future Scholar. They were waiting to hear from eighth graders onstage who had just completed the first year of the program.

The idea behind RFS was ambitious. Each year, RFS administrators would single  out 200 or so promising, underserved seventh graders living in one of Rutgers’ host cities—New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark, and Camden—and provide comprehensive academic mentoring from eighth grade right through their senior year in high school to  prepare them for college. If they chose Rutgers and were accepted, they would receive coverage for tuition and fees. Regardless of school choice, they would be the first in their family to attend college. The RFS program was offering the students a way out of a cycle of diminished opportunities. This just might work, I thought.

What has transpired over the past nine years, however, has eclipsed the imagination of everyone—students, parents, program administrators, and donors alike. In May, the vast majority of the inaugural class from 2008 graduated from college, most of them from Rutgers. What no one had banked on over the past nine years was the deep emotional bonds that would develop among all the participants. They were a family. Mentors had entered not only the classrooms of RFS students, but also their lives, changing their outlook on life and its possibilities. Read this amazing story (“Promises Made, Promises Kept”).