Investing in the Future One Student at a Time

By Melissa Terry | Feb 22, 2022 |

Education is at the top of many families’ philanthropic priorities, from early childhood to post-secondary. Much of that giving is to colleges and universities. However, educating future leaders and citizens of the world at earlier ages is a growing trend.

Boston’s English High School opened its doors as a beacon of hope to students 201 years ago. Its founders believed a strong and vibrant public education was the greatest equalizer for opportunity. That message has stood the test of time with its graduates, including Dan Eramian, class of 1966, who built a successful communications company and career in the public and private sectors. Now he’s doing all he can to pay it forward and provide opportunities for today’s students.

“My teachers provided a very structured environment with high lofty goals, and that made a big impact on my life,” Dan says. “That’s one reason why I feel the need to support them.”

Education-based philanthropy

Portraits of Dan Eramian as a high school senior in 1966 and today

As the child of a widower, Dan often looked after his younger brother while his father worked from the early hours to late at night. School was a gateway to something better.

“There was something magical about going to English High,” Dan says. “Kids had a feeling that they were going to get a better education. You could have gone to your local district high school, instead we opted to take a long bus and trolley ride to get to English High downtown.”

Jason Shull, an advisor at Brighton Jones, says philanthropists have new opportunities to support the school today. The alumni want to raise $3 million, the most ambitious fundraising effort in the school’s history. Funds support scholarships, needed improvements, and learning programs such as the Alumni & Friends Tutoring Center and the Career Pathways Programs.

“As a budding entrepreneur, my mission is to support others as I was supported.”

Thomas Thermidor, class of 2021

“The more Dan shared with me on the prestigious history of the first public secondary school in America—and its 40-year struggle to keep the doors open—I thought this was an incredible opportunity to lend support,” Jason says. “The Tutoring Center is a lifeline for these kids who need extra help.”

Donations from alumni, philanthropists, and institutions exclusively fund the center. It does not receive funding from the Boston Public School system.

A high school legacy rooted in loyalty

For two centuries, English High has created education opportunities for anyone who wanted them. It catered to blue collar families and was well-known as one of the best schools in Boston for sending students to college. Graduates include J.P. Morgan, global financier, class of 1851; Samuel Langley, aviation pioneer, class of 1850; Louis Sullivan, architect and known as the ‘father’ of the skyscraper; U.S. Gen. Matthew Ridgway, a 1912 graduate who commanded U.S. forces in the Korean War; and Star Trek’s Dr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy, class of 1948, just to name a few.

“The school generated a lot of loyalty,” Dan says. “There was a tradition of hundreds of years —you’d see how so many people became successful or famous, and they all came from humble beginnings.”

The school eventually fell on hard times, in spite of its historied success. In the 1970s, the pressure of Boston school desegregation, marches, and demonstrations, all took a deep toll on English High. In 2007, school administrators faced an ultimatum: improve the school or close its doors forever. Today, it’s undergone a renaissance.

Cover art of the 1966 English High School Yearbook“All of you, we hope, will build on the scholastic foundation you have acquired here, so that you may be better prepared to serve yourself and your fellowman — for service to mankind is honor and achievement.”

Headmaster’s message to the class of 1966

English was all-male until the 70’s. A new headmaster, the first female headmaster in its history, began new programs and standards to restore the school’s standards. While much has changed since 1821, the mission hasn’t: to prepare students for success in their careers and to be productive members of society.

“English High put a stake in the ground in 1821 to educate the average man,” says Mike Thomas, CEO and president of the English High School Alumni Association. “That coincides with the school’s mission today: to provide the resources, energy, and funding to educate Boston’s sons and daughters. … We’re on the same mission we were 200 years ago.”

The new kids in class

English High School graduate Thomas Thermidor and his mother

Today, English High offers arts, music, and sports programs — and the structure that benefitted Dan and his classmates 60 years ago. Graduation rates recovered, now at 81% from a low of 52%, and 60% of graduates go on to two- and four-year colleges.

Thomas Thermidor, a 2021 graduate and an alumni scholarship recipient, personifies today’s students. Thomas immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti in 2013 with his mother and two siblings. Now he’s the youngest member of the school’s alumni board of directors, and he studies business at Babson University. 

He says experience at English High provided the right foundation for his goals.

“As a budding entrepreneur, my mission is to support others as I was supported,” Thomas shared with the alumni board. “Financial success is important but at the end of the day, true success is being able to leave a legacy that will last long after my time. While at EHS, so many resources were poured into my journey, I’m extremely fortunate to be in the position I’m in today. I want to inspire others to give back to their communities, and inspire my community members to approach problems with an entrepreneurial mindset.”

The commitment to a better education is supporting a school body that today is more than 98% black and Hispanic, many of whom are immigrants themselves. A third of the students are English language learners, and 70% of students are economically disadvantaged.

When Dan walks through the school’s halls these days, he sees himself in the students. They’re eager to learn, curious about the world, and striving for something better, just like he was. But there is more the school needs, especially donations for scholarships and support for tutoring.

“You have to be willing to help,” Dan says. “If I can do something to help those students, I will. … It may never be the same as it was in 1966, but I’m going to do my damned best to help it get better.”

Videos and images sourced from the Boston Public Library, English High School Alumni Network, and New England Cable News.

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