WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Jared Bynum, 15, graduates at the top of his class from the Washington Jesuit Academy, a private school for under-privileged boys.
"I'm going to miss them a lot. 'Cause I spend a lot of time with them. And even though we went through some good times, and some bad times, I'm never going to forget them."
The 8th grader is one of 23 male students who have successfully completed the Academy's program: 12-hour school days for 11 months each year. The school day involves both class and sports. Bynum played baseball, basketball and soccer.
"Time management, it's always about time management," Bynum explained. "You can have all the skills, but if you don't know how to manage your time you'll never get anywhere with it."
Andria, Bynum's mother, says the rigorous school environment has increased her son's intellectual abilities. But what makes a bigger impact is the Academy's emphasis on building her son's character.
"He is definitely a generous person. Whenever he sees someone in need, he reaches out to them with no questions. He does whatever he's asked and he's just matured a lot over the last three years."
William Whitaker, President of WJA, says the Academy creates a "family" environment for the students: "[An] atmosphere that we do care, that every day is not easy, but frankly we tell the kids, 'life's not easy' and if they're able to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and take incredible advantage and opportunity here, it's a win-win for them."
One area where students don't have to be challenged is paying the tuition. Donors have sponsored the boys' education.
"[Students] wouldn't be in a position to afford an opportunity like this, a private, independent school under the Society of Jesus," Whitaker said. Tuition costs $18,000 per year for each student, according to the Academy's brochure.
Without the financial burden, students get instilled with habits that build confidence, according to Marcus Washington, the headmaster.
"Every day starts with a firm handshake, starts with eye contact. And we try to work on those academic characteristics that we feel are very valuable for each young men's success. And that's overall part of the growth process," Washington said.
On May 28, 2014, the students celebrated graduation knowing they've earned a spot in some of the area's most selective high schools. Bynum is going to Georgetown Prep.
In his valedictorian speech, Bynum told the audience how much he has grown:
"I remember doing my first summer program at WJA. I'd gotten in trouble. Mr. Washington pulled me aside and told me I was on his radar. He wasn't going to let such potential go to waste. Since that day, I've strived to succeed in every aspect of life."
Bruce Johnson, WUSA 9's anchor/reporter, served as the commencement speaker. He tells the graduates that he shares a similar educational background. He says his formative years were shaped by adults who invested in him.
"The church and the school. That was our institution, our structure. My role models were Italian priests and their English was just as good as my Italian. But they were football coaches, baseball coaches,and every sport they wanted to turn into soccer. We're like, what is soccer?"
Bruce reminded the young men of their potentials:
"I need to come here and see this 'cause you guys can be the guys I can call at some point when I want to talk about not just what's wrong with urban America but when I want to talk about banking, urban, finance, world affairs. When I talk about things that impact everybody, not just us as a people, I can come to you guys.'Cause you don't have any limits. That's one of the things you've learned here. You have no limits."
Produced/Written by: Elizabeth Jia