A Strong Support System

Contributed by Brandon Pressley ‘13
Simon Youth Academy at Opry Mills, Nashville, TN


I’ve been punching a timecard since I was old enough to work, and it wasn’t because I wanted a part time job to save up for something extra.  My family needed my help to get by.  I’ve always been a responsible employee, but when you’re in high school, timecards don’t always leave time to worry about your report card.

At 18, when my friends were worrying about graduation and college applications, I found myself living on my own. Eventually, I had to choose between going to class and going to work.  I needed food on the table. And when the pressures of life started to stack up, I just didn’t see a way to continue with my education.

I was on track to become dropout statistic.  And I really didn’t think anyone would notice or care.

But sometimes, you hear just the right thing at just the right time.  Through my high school, I heard about Simon Youth Academy at Opry Mills.  I decided it was worth checking out, and now, I am certain that decision changed the course of my entire life.

From my first moment at the Academy, I knew that my teachers truly cared about my future. They helped me in the classroom and outside of school as well by offering guidance about how to be successful in life – everything from how to manage money to how to speak to people in a proper manner.

Credit by credit, I moved toward graduation. It was challenging, but at every step of the way, I knew I had an entire team behind me, including teachers and students at the Academy, employees at Opry Mills and people at Simon Youth Foundation. It’s an amazing feeling to have that kind of support system.

In December, I was very proud to walk across the stage and accept my high school diploma.

At that moment, I became the first person in my family to graduate from high school. And I’m not stopping here.  I have my sights set on college next year.

Without the Academy, I wouldn’t have graduated.  I would probably be looking for a job and making minimum wage for the rest of my life.  But a diploma changed that.  Now, I feel overwhelmed with the abundance of options that I have open to me, and it’s a great feeling.


Brandon Pressley graduated from Simon Youth Academy at Opry Mills in Nashville, TN in December, 2013.  He was selected by his teachers to speak at graduation, and his words moved the entire audience that day.  SYF team members were proud to join our partners at Opry Mills® and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in celebrating the accomplishments of Brandon and his classmates at the mid-year graduation ceremony.

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