Torron Mollett describes the neighborhood where he grew up as “rough.” As a young teen, he lost his father to gun violence, and the formerly bubbly kid began to act out. His school placed him in a program that helped kids with behavioral difficulties.
He took back to his neighborhood what he learned in the program and became a peer mentor to other kids, encouraging them to get more involved with academics.
Fast forward to college. Mollett visited several schools, but "Clarion felt like home," he said. He was invited to take part in the Summer Bridge Program, in which incoming freshmen can strengthen their academic skills.
"I felt like it would give me that jump start – if I didn't take it, I feel like I wouldn't have been here," he said. "It made me understand, 'I can do this. If I put my mind to it, I can study and get that degree."
As he pursued his degree, he continued to serve his peers and was among the first mentors for the GEMS program, which helps African American males stay focused on academics.
"I worked in the office of Minority Student Services, and we got yearly statistics on retention rates for African American students. Females were graduating, but males weren't," Mollett said. "I felt it was important to step up, be a leader and help young men graduate."
When Mollett graduated in May with degrees in political science and criminal justice, he addressed fellow graduates as student commencement speaker. Among them were six young men, the first cohort of graduates from GEMS. He has promised to be a commencement ceremonies through 2020 to see other young men whom he mentored walk the stage and get their degrees.
Mollett, the oldest of four children, is the first member of his family to graduate from college. He wrote a 20-page letter to his mother, thanking her for being his rock throughout his life. Mother's Day followed spring commencement; Mollett wrapped his diploma and presented it to her as a gift.
He will begin graduate school this fall at University of Baltimore. His ultimate goal is to open a non-profit organization through which he can continue to help people.
"It's important – giving back." Mollett said. "I feel like everyone should give back; life repeats itself, so giving back and helping someone is something you should do."