In 2003, Simona Vareikaite was rejected by all but one New York City high school, which was required by the state to accept the self-​​described teenage “girl from the Bronx with some­thing to prove.”

Vareikaite, now 22, will grad­uate with a degree in crim­inal jus­tice from North­eastern Uni­ver­sity on Friday, some nine years after she chose school over a poten­tial life in gangs or in jail.

The soon-​​to-​​be-​​graduate — who com­pleted two co-​​ops and cofounded a student-​​run orga­ni­za­tion that aims to improve the lives of under­priv­i­leged youth world­wide while at North­eastern — recounted her journey on Thursday after­noon at a lun­cheon for the second grad­u­ating class of Torch Scholars.

The six-​​year-​​old ini­tia­tive sup­ports first-​​generation, low-​​income stu­dents like Vareikaite who exhibit poten­tial in non­tra­di­tional ways. Based on data from the first grad­u­ating class, 100 per­cent of scholars were either employed in their fields or are in grad­uate school within one month of graduation.

Torch encom­passes what it means to per­sist and fos­tered in me a great sense of courage,” Vareikaite told approx­i­mately 100 mem­bers of the North­eastern com­mu­nity who filled a fes­tive tent on Cen­ten­nial Common. “I wasn’t defined based on my GPA, but was rec­og­nized for who I was at my core.”

In his remarks, North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun com­mended the Torch Scholars for their out­standing achieve­ment both on campus and abroad.

Ryan Arias, a crim­inal jus­tice major from San Fran­cisco, for example, studied at the London School of Eco­nomics and interned at Par­lia­ment. Monyrath Chan, a bio­chem­istry major, has con­ducted research in three dif­ferent labs and pub­lished two posters, one of which was recently pre­sented in Wash­ington, D.C.

Each of you has trans­formed your­selves, us and higher edu­ca­tion,” Aoun told the scholars, whom he referred to as “ambas­sadors.” “You are living proof that oppor­tu­ni­ties are boundless.”

Don’t forget that North­eastern will always be your home,” he said.

Torch Scholars inspire pro­gram bene­factor Ted Eng­lish, BS’76, who, Aoun said, “believed in the pro­gram from day one.”

I marvel at all the grad­u­ates here,” Eng­lish said. “What you have over­come to get to this point is truly enormous.”

Anthony Foxx, mayor of Char­lotte, N.C., the city in which North­eastern opened its first grad­uate campus in October, encour­aged the scholars to draw on their col­le­giate suc­cess in times of hardship.

Knowing what you have been able to achieve is source mate­rial for when you have to con­front chal­lenges later in life,” he said. “What gives us con­fi­dence about taking on chal­lenges in the future is what we’ve accom­plished in the past.”

He offered the scholars a piece of life advice. “Dis­cern your pur­pose,” he told them. “It’s what’s in your core — what moti­vates your thinking, behav­iors and choices.”