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VSAC congratulates our featured 2023 grads

Written by
Emily Stetson

June 1, 2023


2023 graduates, left to right: Sahra Hassan, Philip Malazarte and Nick Williams

VSAC has profiled more than two dozen traditional and adult students over the 2022-23 academic year, and three of them are among the graduating Class of 2023. Two are exceptional high school students who will be entering the health care field, and the third –– a National Guard veteran who served overseas –– will graduate from college this year. So, for this week’s profile, we wanted to give a final shout-out to these graduates and their exciting next steps.

Sahra Hassan, Burlington High School

Sahra Hassan, the second-oldest child in a family of nine children growing up with a single mom, has twice been recognized as being among the nation’s most promising STEM talent. Last summer, Sahra participated in an internship program called Aspirnaut, whose mission is to build a more diverse STEM talent pipeline. She spent the summer working in a biochemistry lab at Vanderbilt University and assisting with a cancer research study. In December, she was granted early acceptance to Boston College through a highly competitive nationwide scholarship program called QuestBridge, which will fund 100% of her four-year tuition.

On the future:

Sahra hopes to go on to graduate school and to eventually earn her PhD. “Covid research is a big interest,” she says. “And for me, my career choice is also about representation. There aren’t many Black women in STEM.”

On working with VSAC:

“My VSAC counselor helped me a lot with applying for QuestBridge. And overall, the program definitely encouraged me,” Sahra says. “It helped take away the pressures of being able to afford applications, standardized test fees, and things like that. And having someone to check over all my applications –– that was huge.”

Philip Malazarte, Green Mountain Union High School

Philip emigrated to Vermont from the Philippines with his parents and his younger sister when he was seven years old. He notes with pride that he and his sister are first-generation Americans, and he feels a special love for Vermont and for his high school, where he has been active in theater and volleyball. He will attend Castleton University in the fall and study nursing, continuing a family legacy; his great-grandparents were nurses, both of his grandparents were nurses, his aunts and uncles work in the medical field, and his mother is a physical therapist.

On the future:

“I really like being able to take care of someone –– whether in a holistic way or in a medical way –– and trying to make them feel better,” says Philip, who began his nursing studies at the local tech center and will graduate high school with his LNA certification.

On working with VSAC:

“[The college process] was a novel experience for me and for my parents, because my family had all gone to school in the Philippines. If I hadn’t had the resources [available through VSAC’s GEAR UP program], everything would have been so much harder. That program is so helpful for people like me who don’t know how college works. If their parents went to college here, they would have connections, and they can navigate easier. But for me, I didn’t have any of that. VSAC was a lifesaver.”

Nick Williams, Castleton University

After graduating from Burr & Burton Academy, Nick Williams enlisted in the Vermont National Guard. He says his deployment to Kosovo gave him a new appreciation for the opportunities we have here in the U.S. and in Vermont, and he returned home with a renewed focus on getting his college degree. Now 24 and a senior at Castleton University majoring in Business Administration, Nick is set to graduate in December 2023.

On the future:

“I’ll be leaving the military in April 2024, and I’m currently looking for opportunities to start a career in law enforcement. As a police officer, I want to see communities grow, and I want to be able to help people through their worst moments,” Nick says. “The military has shown me that having a higher purpose and helping people is what makes me happy.”

On working with VSAC:

For Nick, the financial aid applications were particularly difficult to navigate on his own, and even though his tuition was covered through the military, the FAFSA paperwork was still required. “Some of those boxes, you just scratch your head at. VSAC has been a huge help.”

If he hadn’t been connected with VSAC and with HireAbility, Nick says, “I would probably be where I am, but the amount of work and trial and error would have been much higher. Just having people to steer you in the right direction is huge.”

Congratulations to all of the 2023 graduates!