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Eight takeaways from the Valedictorians Project

1) UNDERACHIEVING On paper, no students in Boston are better positioned for upward mobility than its valedictorians. In reality, many saw their opportunities diminish soon after high school, often when they realized college classes were far more difficult. One quarter of Boston’s valedictorians from 2005 to 2007 did not finish college within six years. Today, 40 percent still earn less than $50,000 a year.

2) SUBURBS FARE BETTER Valedictorians from the cities and towns surrounding Boston have fared much better than their counterparts in Boston public schools. The suburban graduates were about two and a half times as likely as the Boston students both to earn an advanced degree and earn more than $100,000 a year.

READ: An epidemic of untapped potential

3) NO DOCTORS Nearly a quarter of Boston valedictorians interviewed wanted to become doctors. Yet, more than a decade later, none of the valedictorians from 2005 to 2007 has earned a medical degree, a measure of how poorly Boston’s public schools prepare graduates to compete for some of the region’s best jobs.

READ: No doctors in the house

4) UNFAIR EDGE? Students who attended Boston’s three exam schools fared dramatically better after high school than other Boston students. Five of the nine exam school valedictorians between 2005 and 2007 attended Harvard University. By comparison, just three of the more than 80 non-exam BPS valedictorians attended Ivy League schools, none of them Harvard. The starkly different outcomes raise questions of basic fairness: the majority of students at the exam schools are white and Asian in a system where most students are black or Latino.

READ: The exam school divide

5) DOUBLY DISADVANTAGED Many of Boston’s top students are “doubly disadvantaged” at college because they are financially struggling and have little in their background to prepare them for higher education. Thrust into an alien, privileged world, they try to get through classes while holding down jobs, coping with crises back home, or even struggling with limited English. A number of valedictorians from 2005 to 2007 said that they experienced culture shock, social isolation, and a deep disconnect with college classmates, sometimes going so far as to switch schools or drop out.

READ: Lost on campus

6) HOMELESS VALEDICTORIANS Boston valedictorians remain vulnerable as they navigate adult life – the Globe interviewed four who experienced homelessness after high school. One, Madelyn Disla, became homeless not long after she graduated from Dartmouth College, done in by a combination of a new baby, lack of a job, and an extended family unable to provide a temporary bed.

READ: Hopeful to homeless

7) SOMETHING THAT WORKS Boston city and private officials launched a major effort to improve college graduation rates after the students interviewed by the Globe had already graduated. The program, Success Boston, boosted overall college graduation rates to more than 50 percent through a combination of providing career-oriented jobs and mentoring. But graduation rates have plateaued in recent years, leaving city officials looking for new answers.

8) NO REGRETS Despite the many obstacles to success they encountered, Boston valedictorians themselves generally did not complain about their disadvantages. The overwhelming majority said they were better off than their parents and nearly 9 out of 10 felt they had a “fair shot.” Michael Blackwood, a staff sergeant in the Army rather than the doctor he once dreamed he’d be, said he’s satisfied with his life, saying of his high school photo, “I forgot that face a long time ago.”