Nadia Lopez. Educator and innovator. Founding principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy and the source of inspiration for 192 bright middle school students on the road of life.
It’s easy for a hard-working, dedicated, administrator in a tough place like Brownsville in eastern Brooklyn to fly under the radar, to go unnoticed and underappreciated, to diligently stay the course without fanfare or fan mail. But that was then and this is now. On a freezing Monday in January 2015, Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton shot a photo of Vidal Chastanet, a 13-year old Mott Hall 8th grader with a warm face, a black hoodie, and a story to tell.
That photo and Vidal’s certain words—that you were the person who influenced him most, that you taught him and his classmates they mattered—went viral, with well over a million people noticing, commenting, sharing. The buzz led you and Vidal to a private Oval Office meeting with President Obama who told the young man, “Nobody does things alone… Never think that you know everything. And always be ready to listen.”
Principal Lopez, your dream for these kids is not small: That there’s no place they don’t belong; that they see themselves as scholars in spite of stigmas and statistics; that they master a rigorous curriculum in the arts, science, technology, engineering, and math; and that they get somewhere great in life with the help of teachers and family and a vision for success. That is why, three days after that singular image was captured on camera, you and Stanton launched a fundraising campaign to send Mott Hall students to visit Harvard, raising more than $1.4 million in just three weeks. On April 2nd, the entire student body arrived on the Harvard campus to imagine and aspire. President Drew Faust gave words of welcome after which you reminded them, “This is your right, and this is an option for you. The only thing that will stop you from getting to this space is yourselves.”
I stand here today looking out on the distinguished faculty and administration of Barnard College, knowing how much it has meant to the Class of 2015 to have their guidance and support. On behalf of my fellow graduates and everyone everywhere for whom education matters, I am proud to present you with the 2015 Barnard Medal of Distinction. You open eyes to possibility and we thank you.
And we wish all of your students the very best of luck.