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Paula Miller seldom heard words of encouragement. You will never be anything in life, you will never make it, her foster parents once said.
Brandon Smith remembers being bullied since he was the smallest and quietest in his class.
John Mayback Cooper has two children, from two different mothers.
At 19, 18, and 21 respectively, all three are high school dropouts. They all know that rejection hurts, what failure feels like, and how discouraging it is to hear "no."
But lately, all three have been experiencing more positivity and hearing a lot of "yes."
Yes to education, that is.
The three students are in a program called YESPhilly (formerly Youth Empowerment Services), an organization that provides high school dropouts between the age of 17 and 21 educational and job opportunities.
On Wednesday, along with about 30 other YESPhilly students, Miller, Smith, and Cooper met Mayor Nutter and visited Philadelphia University for a tour of the campus as well as to get academic and career advice.
That is what event organizer Barbara Mattleman, director of Phillygoes2college - an educational initiative under the Mayor's Office of Education - had in mind.
"With the job market right now, a very large percentage of the jobs will require more education past a high school diploma," she said.
Nutter further emphasized the importance of a postsecondary education.
"The gap between what a high school graduate makes and a college graduate makes over a lifetime is estimated to be nearly $2 million," he said.
"Your education is a critical factor in your lifelong earnings, your ability to get a good job, take care of yourself, take care of family members, and as you get older, move up the ranks in your place of work," Nutter told the students.
Taylor Frome, founder and executive director of YESPhilly, agreed.
She said her students dropped out for a variety of reasons beyond grades, such as family problems and violence in schools.
But Frome said her students prefer to be called "pushouts."
Dropouts signified that they were failing, she said. Pushouts more appropriately described the students' circumstances, she said, in which they felt that the public school system pushed them away from a quality education.
In his talk to the students, Nutter addressed those situations.
"Your academic career may have been interrupted for any number of reasons, or you didn't think you were getting what you needed at some of our high schools," he said.
"That is what it is, it was what it was, and that's all in the past. Today really is another step in the journey for you."