On June 8, Gambit published this sponsored piece by New Schools for New Orleans.

Mason Horne is a recent graduate of Edna Karr High School. Like all members of the Class of 2020, he was unable to have a traditional, in-person graduation ceremony with his peers this spring (though Karr is rescheduling the event).

“It is a challenge to mentally stay positive when the thing you worked twelve years for did not happen when you thought it would. We expected that celebratory moment. This year it wasn’t like that; we did not end the school year in person and we did not have prom or our Senior Picnic.”

But Mason has much to celebrate. He was sixth in his class and has been on the Principal’s Honor Roll for all four years at Karr. He was voted to receive an award for Outstanding Academic Performance of the Year by the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), he tutors younger students at Karr, and he is the Student Government Association President.

He sees even this difficult moment as a moment for leadership.

“This moment makes you ask yourself if this is going to be a time for a setback or a time to regroup yourself. So this can also be an epiphany, or help you come to realizations.”

He draws on the values he learned at Karr to help guide him.

“Karr’s values spell PRIDE—Perseverance, Reflection, Independence, Dignity, Empathy—those core values are instilled in us to prepare us for the real world. And so for a situation like this, I’m going to use perseverance. I’m persevering through this tough time, being positive, and continuing to do positive things.”

So Mason has used these recent weeks to write scholarship essays and finalize his application to his top college, Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. He plans to study Finance.

“When I imagine life after college, I plan to be an investment broker on Wall Street. I imagine myself in professional clothing, walking up to my office, making the best of each day. I will be living my life without regrets—though I know everyone makes mistakes, I’ll be trying to get things right the first time.”

Mason already embodies this focus and dedication. He is a second-degree black belt in Ma-Kibo-Karate-Do, which he has been practicing since he was two years old. In addition to his role as the President of Student Government, he is also a member of the Student Leadership Institute of his charter network, InspireNOLA Charter Schools, and part of the Chick Fil-A Leader Academy.

“I’ve always had a mindset of helping others and reaching out my hand,” he says. “Leadership was a way for me to help others better themselves.”

He was selected to introduce Dr. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at InspireNOLA’s “Live and Achieve Rally” in 2018. He spoke before thousands of young people and adults.

He attended the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. with some classmates. He also helped lead a march against gun violence here in New Orleans in September of 2018, speaking both in front of City Hall and in the chambers.

In a speech he gave that day, he described what it is like for students to lose “that best friend who has been with them through all of their troubles, against every obstacle, in every class, picked them up when they were down, was the only friend when they needed a laugh, been with through every relationship and encounter, was there when they needed advice, and their only sunshine when they live in a storm. When that person leaves, they take a part of many hearts with them.”

Mason explains that this is a reality that’s all too familiar.

“We are losing schoolmates and classmates that you see on the regular, and then all of a sudden, they’re gone. Mentally, it throws most students off track. One day you’re joking or laughing with someone and the next day you’re attending their funeral. That’s why I’ve taken a stand to fight against gun violence.”

Mason’s father, Jason Horne, helps him stay grounded and inspired, even through difficulty. He is the chief instructor of XS Martial Arts Dojo, where Mason earned both of his degrees, and Mason looks up to him.

“He has instilled leadership skills within me. Leadership runs in our blood. He is teaching me the life values I’m going to need for college. He has prepared me for adulthood and he is dedicated to ensuring that I’m ready for life, that I’m not stepping out without the tools I need.”

Mason is also supported by Karr’s educators. Two teachers, Ms. Gordon and Mr. Hatt, stand out for him in particular.

“Ms. Gordon has taught me in math—Pre-Calculus, Algebra 2, and Calculus. She is that dedicated teacher that is consistent every day. You know what to do when you walk into her class. She is dedicated to making sure we are prepared for what’s coming next.”

“We joke that Mr. Hatt has been at Karr since Karr was a brick. He teaches Social Studies, so I had him for World History and U.S. History. He is strict and stern, but at the end of the day, he teaches the lessons in the best way; he makes them exciting and fun. I always look forward to going to his class.”

Inside and outside of school, Mason’s two closest friends, Ciyonte and Nevaeh, are a source of joy and motivation. Like Mason, they are very devoted to both their academics and leadership roles.

“Ciyonte is my backbone. She’s number ten in our class and was the SGA Vice President in 2017. Now that I’m the President, she’s been the one to support me and help me communicate important details to the students and administrators. She helps with my speeches as well. When I had to write a speech in one day, Ciyonte was really there for me to help me edit, and make sure that it was factual.”

“Nevaeh is on me too. She’s been there to support me in everything I do, helping me stay positive, and she’s a backbone academically and personally for me. She’s number three in our class and so she motivates me. I’m always trying to catch up to her. I tell her, ‘I’m not trying to take your spot, but I’m on your back.’”

“They keep my head on straight,” Mason explains. “They will push me to get my scholarships done, stay focused, and finish my work.”

“Ciyonte tells me, ‘Don’t come right home after college.’ She says, ‘See what’s beyond. Keep going, keep pushing further, go out and explore.’”

Mason plans to take her advice.

“I’ve been prepared by my elders, my parents, and other people in my community. College and life are going to be hard, but I know I’m ready to be independent.”

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