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highlighting the voices of past and present ACE students

To conclude our ACE series we thought we would celebrate graduation season by highlighting the voices of past and present ACE students, while also opening up the platform to the many future ACE students and supporters out there.

Representing the voice of ACE students past is Ms. Ersela Demerson, the original ACE graduate from Palo Duro High School’s Class of 1997. Ersela graduated ahead of her cohort in three years, the rest of her inaugural class graduated in 1998, making her literally the first ACE graduate.

AAF: Ersela, we think your ambition to graduate high school in three years embodies the driven spirit of ACE students, but in your own words can you describe for us what ACE means to you, and now as a leader in the Amarillo community, what you see it continuing to mean to students in the future?

Demerson: My situation wasn’t a stereotypical situation you might expect to hear about. Both of my parents were college educated, I grew up understanding the importance of education. For me, ACE solved an economic issue. My dad was a minister, and my mom was laid off at the time I graduated high school and was looking to go to college. So going to college was never a question, but how to pay for it was. I assumed I would have to probably take some time off during undergrad. But because of ACE I didn’t have to and I was able to go on after my bachelor’s and receive a master’s as well.

As far as what ACE means for students now and in the future I think it can be summarized as an opportunity for students to invest in themselves and their futures, while also receiving a sense of accomplishment for their work. ACE is a hand-up and not a handout. It may be a model stressing the importance of education and attendance for students not receiving that message at home, but more than anything, I think many students’ experiences were like my own and what they get from ACE is a phenomenal opportunity and a message of hope.

Providing a voice for present ACE college students, is Makayla Ksor, a sophomore pursuing a degree in Fine Arts at Amarillo College. Unlike Ersela, Makayla’s parents did not attend university.

Ksor: ACE was always there when I needed assistance. I could always just email and make an appointment with an ACE advisor if I needed help figuring out the different aspects of being a college student. They also helped me in high school with deadlines and applications, managing expenses, which classes to take, and which college was best for me. Once in college I was even urged by ACE to become a part of a mentor program so that I could have an advisor with a major similar, if not the same to my own, who would understand my plight on a corresponding level. Yet, the biggest impact ACE has made in my college experience would be the financial support. The idea of student loans scared me.

AAF: Makayla, can you share with us what you wish others knew about ACE?

Ksor: When I ask students if they have ACE or not, most of them say that they lost their ACE in high school. I respond by asking, “Well, did you try to get it back by talking to an ACE advisor?” Usually, they just shrug and say, “No, it didn’t really matter to me.” It surprises me how many students would lose their ACE, not knowing how important it is to have or what it could do for them, or even just too afraid to ask about it. I feel like if students were more aware of what ACE really does for themselves and others they would care more about their own ACE and get the guidance they need.

And Johnathan Ashcraft, with his long line of credentials – ACE high school graduate as of this past weekend, No Limits No Excuses FAFSA competition winner, and future Amarillo College Badger – had this to say about his experience thus far with ACE at Caprock High School.

Ashcraft: ACE will help the most with the cost of college. The cost would have been a barrier but I really appreciated the 85 percent GPA requirement because it motivated me to keep my grades up. The coolest thing for me was the way many of my teachers also motivated me to continue to stay eligible by also helping me stay on top of my grades.

AAF: Any favorite memories about high school you want to share with us as we close out the series for the summer and you get ready to start down a new path?

Ashcraft: I loved being a part of the Marine Corps ROTC. It was definitely my favorite part.

Group of people smiling

Johnathan and leadership from AISD, AC, and Amarillo Area Foundation after finding out he won the scholarship!


We are not surprised, Ashcraft is a very mature man with an incredibly bright future.

Congratulations again to Johnathan and all of our ACE graduates who graduated this past weekend. And an extra special congratulations to our first full class of ACE graduates from Tascosa High School!

We wish only the best for our new grads and hope this series has been as informative for you as it has been for us. Although the series is concluding, our conversations about #WHYACE are just beginning.

We encourage you to engage us in social media conversations using #WHYACE to share stories or ask questions. Especially those future ACE voices out there (that includes parents, educators, students, employers, and civic leaders). ACE touches so many points in our community. We can’t wait to hear from all of you.


Have a great summer!