The Universal Banker Program Graduation Day: A Recap

 After five intense weeks, the WLA and Generation Universal Banker Program ended on a high note. The graduation ceremony provided students, their families, and sponsors WLA, Generation, M&T Bank, Capital One and WSFS a final chance to connect as the official first graduates of the program.

Antonio Stills, Program Instructor, spoke to how the students left him inspired each day. He watched each student face adversity every day and still participate in class.  He thanked the students for inspiring him and reminding him to better himself.

Antonio addressing students and their families.


Chris reiterated Antonio’s comments. Reminding each student they have done incredible things in the past five weeks.


VIP Speakers Take the Stage


Jamar Rahming, Director of the Wilmington Library System, thanked the program for making their home the library for the first cohort and reminded students they have already overcome a lot in life.“It may be toxic relationships. It may be generational curses. You’re going to have to derail it and you already are doing that.”


To thank the Library for their generosity, the students presented a plaque.


Tameka Logan, of Generation USA, added “You are the finest young people in Wilmington. You were challenged every day. The curriculum was designed to challenge your banking skills and to question yourselves.”, she said. “Be encouraged. Life can be challenging but you have new friends and a new family.”


Generation Wilmington program director, Donna Toole, introduced representatives of the sponsor banks. Shela Hacker, of WSFS,  focused on the bank’s commitment to the local community. Sharon Owens, Risk Manager with M&T Bank, personally worked on the program’s curriculum. With no college degree, Sharon started as a part-time bank teller and now is a risk manager for multiple branches. She was fortunate to have her company pay for her education. In ten years, she envisions seeing the graduates at the podium talking to people like them.


Shela from WSFS speaking to students


Sharon from M&T Bank speaking to students

Barclay’s Stephanie Crockett, Assistant Vice President, addressed the students about leading change. Stephanie lead the effort to donate over 9.1 million pounds of food to shelters in one year. As the author of “The Dream Killer” Stephanie opened up to the crowd about her life.  Stephanie reminded students that no matter what life throws in your way, you can still change it. 


Stephanie from Barclay’s speaking to students


As a special surprise to the students, Mayor Mike Purzycki addressed the students. “We don’t measure our success by the buildings and bridges we build, we measure success by the people we build. It is great to have Generation and the banks so active in our community. With the Wilmington Leaders Alliance who believes so much in unlocking human potential within our community. It makes a mayor’s job easier when people look after each other. I hope you get as much out of life as I have.” he said.


Longwood Foundation and WLA Chairman Thère du Pont also had an opportunity to speak with the students. He was proud to state that WLA had been “the glue to making this program happen.” He carried on to announce that WLA will be starting similar programs in construction and nursing besides having another cohort of students for the banking program.


Students offer words


Erica is a natural writer and can easily express herself with written word. Throughout the program, she has always been encouraging of her classmates. She read her poem Encouragement. She was filled with positive reinforcement on the skills they learned and how far the bankers have come with a reminder they have even farther to go.


Amber, the first student we spotlighted, thanked her teachers and recapped what she and her classmates learned from the program. She urged her fellow students to keep growing and to not let things in life hold them back. She admitted she faced setbacks and challenges but persisted to stay in the program. “I am grateful to experience this achievement with everyone. Be proud of who you are. Manifest your own destiny.”


Jared, who was highlighted in the week four blog, took to the podium next. “It is a really rough city. If you’re not surrounding yourself with positive people it is easy to be consumed by the violence that is going on.” He continued to praise the program even creating an acronym for Generation:


Greatness for each individual

Eagerness beyond measure.

Neglected our wants to establish our needs.

Excitement for each class

Responsibility to take care of your priorities in a timely manner.


Transferable skills to succeed in the workplace.

Integrity, to do what is right when no one is around.

Operating as a team.

No excuses.


Student Spotlight- Justice

There is much more to Justice, who has been featured before, however, he opened up upon graduation.

Justice is a Wilmington native and worked from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. then would go to class from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. He had the drive to make a better life for himself. When you speak to him you can hear the passion in his voice no matter how tired he was. Today was different. He was nervous but you could hear he had a message to send.

“I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Generation and this program has impacted mine and my classmates lives in a positive way. Every day the energy was powerful positive and welcoming.” He began to describe the different things he had learned and thanked the program for what he has learned.


As he continued to speak to the crowd, his voice trembled from raw emotion. He shared with the crowd how five weeks ago the day before the class started he and his family were evicted from their home. “Trying to prepare for this opportunity and prepare for leaving felt like it was impossible. I had one weekend to decide if I was going to go back to the streets or try to make it in this program.”


“On the first day of this program, I had every reason not to come.” He went on to describe that morning. “It was pouring down rain, I had nothing professional in my wardrobe, and I did not know where I was going after class. What made me get up and come that first day was my why.”


His “why” was his desire to have a purpose and goal in life. His whole life he played sports and in his senior year of high school, he was the captain of the football team. He broke his foot at the start of the season and subsequently ended his football career along with his only dream of one day playing professionally. With no aspirations when he graduated, he turned to the streets. In an effort to change himself,he tried to go through job corps but was kicked out. During that time he lost his cousin and best friend to gun violence. Being one of eleven kids he felt the need to provide for his mother and siblings.  


“I was fearful of coming to class but I did not want to miss the chance to be a Universal Banker. After the first day, I decided I will not make any more excuses. I was going to change my current circumstances. Over the five weeks, my goals and vision became clearer. I can now clearly express my feelings, thoughts, and plans.”


With this opportunity not only does Justice plan on starting a career but also raising awareness about gun violence in Wilmington and to remind others there is hope.


His last message to the crowd was “Whatever your dream is- I want you to go out there and chase it.”


This blog is the conclusion of a series that featured the first class of students to graduate from the WLA and Generation Universal Banker Program. Below are the updates from each week highlighting how the class went, along with various program and student spotlights.

Week 4.

Week 3

Week 2

Week 1




If you and your organization are interested in creating impactful programming for the Wilmington community, Click here to learn more about joining WLA.


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