Boxwood celebrates students with graduation ceremony

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ROSELLE, NJ — Boxwood Learning Center, a nonprofit organization located in Roselle, showcased its newest high school graduates at a virtual graduation and awards ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 20. Staff, alumni and supporters celebrated and congratulated the Class of 2021.

Boxwood founder and Executive Director Marie Thelusma-Chase explained that troubled young people have always been drawn to her and that she’d long had a desire to help them. Supporting such youths with education, career and entrepreneurship exploration, and life skills, Boxwood is helping young people more than just a high school degree.

“My husband and I, we have a love and passion for young people,” Thelusma-Chase said during the ceremony. “People look at (misunderstood youths) as troubled kids, but I always see past people’s facade and really see the jewel or the pearl hidden inside. You see a young person who is misunderstood, but they’re really champions. We just took our resources, spoke to our friends, our church tabernacle, volunteers throughout the community and started Boxwood Learning Center. We made it an official nonprofit organization in 2019. … Its vision is to support champions on their pathway to success. Our mission is really to create a learning environment.

“Our site in Roselle is an incubator,” she continued. “Our floors were installed by the youth, the kitchen cabinet was built by the youth and we have a small studio which is a workshop. “Wherever I go and my staff go, we try to create learning environments to support them. Right now, we’re doing that by tutoring, mentoring and career exploration. We also work to expose our young people to careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, arts and math fields.

“It’s not good enough to mentor a champion for three months to a year,” she added. “When they’re teenagers and they’re misunderstood, they need someone to walk with them through age 25. That’s the commitment that Boxwood has made. Our champions are not just going to get their diplomas; we want to be in their lives until they’re 25. By then, they’re able to be leaders in their field of choice and able to also come back and give back to their community.”

An alternative high school program, Boxwood provides individualized instruction to prepare students to take the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, which is one of three high school equivalency tests offered in New Jersey. The five-section exam includes science, social studies, math, reading and writing. The exam material covers four years of high school topics. All students passing the TASC receive their high school diplomas from the New Jersey Department of Education, and all Boxwood graduates have passed all five sections. Ten students completed their final exams and received a Class of 2021 high school diploma.

Class of 2020 members Khalil Rashada, Bryan Lorenzo and Jerrell Coleman spoke, giving audience members some insight as to how far recent alumni have already traveled on various career paths. Boxwood also highlighted its music education program; a song called “Graduated,” which was part of the graduation ceremony, was created by Class of 2021 graduates Demetrius Ware, Paul Arboleda, Jon Ace and Fariq Thomas, with help from music interns Keberson Estiverne and Jeffrey Romero.

C.J. Meenan, co-founder of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, spoke highly of Thelusma-Chase during the Boxwood graduation ceremony and announced his partnership with Boxwood, which presents an amazing opportunity for graduates and their families geared toward helping them start their own businesses.

“I want to congratulate every single one of the young folks here today and say congratulations on all of the amazing things that you’ve done,” Meenan said during the ceremony, “and also give a shout-out to all the families and community members who are supporting their children and Boxwood Learning Center. This is a team effort, and I’m so happy to see you all here. I’m honored to be a part of this movement. Marie is one of the most focused, most driven, most successful young people I’ve ever met in my entire life. … We met almost 30 years ago, when she was a 14-year-old young woman in my entrepreneurship class at the Boys & Girls Clubs in Newark. She took those skills that she learned in that class and built Boxwood. So all of the great things that she learned in that class, she applied them and put them into this organization. There’s no greater honor in my life than to be here and see her using these skills to help other people. I’m so moved.

“I’m here today to announce that my organization, called XP Startup Labs, now has a partnership with Boxwood,” he continued. “My company trains people on how to start their own business. This is a $5,000 program. We now are setting aside 25 scholarships for graduates of Boxwood and their families, because this is a family effort. So if you are a graduate of Boxwood and you are a member of good standing and you get the stamp of approval from Marie, she will send you to us to apply for one of the scholarships. I’ve worked with over 10,000 people and trained them on how to start their own business. Classes are starting in February, and we will teach you everything you need to know, in order to start your own business, so that you can employ yourself and others for the rest of your lives, no matter what.”