Joanna de Peña '08 was voted onto Proctor's Board of Trustees this past weekend becoming the youngest member of the board to date. In 2004, Joanna made the difficult decision to leave home in Lawrence, Massachusetts for the opportunities Proctor Academy afforded her. Her passion, confidence, and wisdom beyond her years commands the attention of others whether she was serving as the emotional leader of her basketball team at Proctor or is speaking to an auditorium of inner-city youth about investing in their future. During her recent visit to campus, she shared insights with Freshman Seminar classes, challenged Head of School Mike Henriques to a little one on one in the gym, and reflected on the impact Proctor has had on her life.
Joanna was featured in our recent publication of the Procor Magazine. Click here to check out her full interview and reflection there along with other alumni profiles!
Tell me a little about your life before Proctor?
After my father had his second stroke when I was nine years old, he was left nonverbal and paralyzed. Life became really challenging, but my mother worked hard in multiple jobs and remained positive as she struggled to raise my brother and me in low-income housing. I grew up on one of the most dangerous streets in Lawrence, MA and our schools were a mess, but my involvement in the Lawrence Boys and Girls club kept me focused and out of trouble.
How did Proctor get on the map as you thought about high school opportunities?
During 8th grade, my Boys and Girls Club coach, Steve Kelly, who was far more than just a coach to us, but a real mentor, sat me down to talk about my potential and opportunities outside of Lawrence. I didn’t know where to start, but before graduating 8th grade Proctor’s Gregor Makechnie visited the Club. We had a great conversation about academics, sports, my interests, and my future, but I would have to repeat 8th grade since I had missed the application deadline. This was not appealing to me, and my mother wasn’t sold on the idea since it was such a foreign concept for our family and our culture. But after my first three days at Lawrence High as a freshman, I ran into Steve Kelly and told him I didn’t want to go back, and he helped me enroll for a repeat 8th grade year so I could then apply to Proctor. At that point, I lost all of my school “friends” because they didn’t understand my decision to invest in my future. I went through with the process, though, because I trusted the Club and Steve and the opportunities that lay ahead of me at Proctor.
What are your top three moments from your four years at Proctor?
- Our historic championship for girls’ varsity basketball
- Traveling abroad to Costa Rica, Spain, and France
- Wilderness Orientation because it rained so much that nothing went as planned but we bonded and started the year off strong
Who were the most influential people you met during your years at Proctor?
Everyone at Proctor was influential in my life in one way or another. My advisor Alejandra Young, my basketball coaches Noreen Fifield and Megan (Lytle) Hardie, Gregor, my basketball team, Lisa Scarry, Mike Henriques, and Terry Stoecker all come to mind. Proctor prepared me for life after high school by experiencing this ‘new world’ full of positivity, community love, opportunities, professionalism, structure and the constant reminder of goal setting.
Tell us about the work you're doing today with Top Notch Scholars?
I returned to Lawrence to found a non-profit in 2014 called Top Notch Scholars. We are a Leadership Development Organization for youth and provide motivational speaking engagements and leadership workshops to schools and youth organizations focusing on self-confidence, self-advocacy, overcoming adversity and developing successful habits. We also host our own youth leadership conferences and I am putting together a regional youth leadership conference through my Masters in Education Capstone Project at Merrimack College. My goal is to host a youth leadership conference at TD Garden in the next three years! Lastly, we are in the process of creating an after school program that will allow students to intern for us and learn skills such as marketing, graphic design, coding, public speaking, and business development. We already have over 150 interested youth and counting and a location that we are looking into as a host site!
What inspires you to reach out to young people with a message of hope and opportunity?
I have the ability to help remove mental barriers prohibiting young people from being their best selves. I feel I have an obligation to share the knowledge and life skills that I have gained through being mentored at the Lawrence Boys’ and Girls’ Club and at Proctor. So many young people lack a positive role model and guidance. To be able to provide this to youth is such a gift.
Tell us how you are feeling about joining Proctor’s Board of Trustees?
I am very excited to reconnect with Proctor. This school has a special place in my heart. Because of the opportunity given to me to attend Proctor, I am able to share a powerful story with young people every time I speak. Proctor will always be a part of that story, and I am excited to see my relationship with Proctor continue to grow as a Board member.