Jonathan Starr Receives Honorary Diploma at Learning Project Graduation

On Wednesday, June 14, The Learning Project Elementary School gathered at the First Lutheran Church in the Back Bay to celebrate its sixth-grade graduation.

As part of this ceremony each year, the school has a tradition of granting an “Honorary Learning Project Diploma” to one deserving recipient. The purpose of this diploma is to put before the children at graduation individuals who have led lives characterized by significant civic service to others.

This year’s recipient of the Honorary Diploma was Jonathan Starr, author of “It Takes a School: The Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World’s #1 Failed State,” which chronicles his journey from businessman to school headmaster.

As Learning Project board member Ira Goldklang shared with the audience at the ceremony, “In 2008, Jonathan left a successful Boston-based hedge fund and went to Somaliland where he spent the next several years building a seventh- through 12th-grade campus out of the unforgiving rubble of a country torn apart by civil war.”

The mission of this school – the Abaarso School for Science and technology – is to “nurture the academic, intellectual and character development of promising Somali boys and girls so that they can effectively and ethically advance their society as the leaders of tomorrow.”

Goldklang went on to recount the school’s success, sharing that the Abaarso School now “has students who have matriculated to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, MIT, Amherst, Swarthmore and a host of other world-famous universities.”  It is Starr’s hope that these individuals will return to Africa and become the great change-makers in their home country.

Starting a school in a remote region of Somaliland was a struggle, and after accepting the diploma, Starr spoke to The Learning Project soon-to-be graduates about the difficulties that he experienced.

“I did so many things wrong in the process of building this school,” said Starr. “I made countless mistakes.  But the one thing that I really did right was to be incredibly tenacious. I didn’t give up.  I just kept going and I figured out ways to get around problems.  And what I found was that, with my passion, other people…it was contagious.  Other people took my passion, and they caught it.  They all caught the bug.”

Starr ended by emphasizing that the success of the Abaarso School is due to many; not only to him.  He simply couldn’t do it alone.  It took an entire community to make it work, and he described how this relates to the close-knit community of The Learning Project, and the endeavors it takes on to improve the lives of others.

Along with the diploma, Starr was also gifted a $2,000 donation to the Abaarso School – money raised by Learning Project children through their annual Readathon – and a painting created from the fingerprints of Learning Project students along with the word “friendship” painted in both English and Somali. A bond has been built between Boston and Africa and The Learning Project and the Abaarso School hope to continue to foster this connection in the years ahead through the continued exchange of artwork and written letters between its students.

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