by Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, May 15, Milford High School students heard from Omar “Scott” Simmons, a 1992 graduate of Milford High School. Simmons is now a law professor and an Expert College Counselor for a non-profit agency founded by Simmons and his father.
“We want to be sure that every student who goes to Milford High School has a plan after graduation,” Shawn Snyder, Principle of Milford High School, said. “We identified you as students who should be headed to college based on the AP courses you are taking or on your GPA. You are on the right path to do something special. That is why Dr. Simmons is here to talk to you today. To help you see some of the options you have that you may not have considered before.”
Ed Evans, a teacher at Milford High School, attended school with Simmons. Evans explained to the students that Simmons “walked these halls, ate the same food in the cafeteria and took similar steps”as them. He also explained that Simmons did take a different path, attending Wake Forest University, a school that was almost eight hours away from Milford.
“It has been a quarter of a century since I sat in these seats,” Simmons said. “I can tell you that you are different than I am. You are smarter and more talented. You are more diverse, more tolerant, more understanding. You are probably more well-behaved than we were because our actions did not follow us on social media. I can tell you I never thought I would be a lawyer and now I am a law professor. You have probably heard the negative things about lawyers but I can tell you that lawyers do good things. They are advocates for people. As a professor, I am a teacher, something I have been doing for about 13 years.”
Simmons grew up on Front Street near the old Jewell’s store. His parents were originally from Tampa where they grew up in the 1950s and 1960s during segregation. His mother was a teacher at Cape Henlopen and his father a Naval Officer. Simmons explained that his parents gave him the idea of opportunity, teaching him that he had no limits and pushing him to succeed.
“Their idea of success was how many people you helped,” Simmons explained. “That principle still guides me and I continue to come back to that. When we see things in the world, we often operate in a way that is not objective. You hear facts and evidence that you filter in a way that matches your own beliefs. As a law professor, my job is to teach students from many different backgrounds and beliefs that they must be objective. They must set aside their own beliefs and hear the facts with a clear mind. That they must use legal reasoning to make decisions in an objective manner.”
No one in Simmons’ family was an attorney. When he was young, he played Little League where he met Justice Randy Holland. Over the years, Justice Holland became a mentor and coach for Simmons, encouraging him when he decided to go to college and then to law school. Simmons said he is always proud when he uses cases decided by Justice Holland when he teaches.
In addition to teaching law school, Simmons operates a non-profit organization, the Simmons Memorial Foundation, which he and his father created in memory of his mother and brother. The foundation encourages students to consider colleges other than those close to home. One of the services the foundation offers is helping students visit colleges that are some distance away.
“I knew college was great but I never understood why kids who were more talented than I was either didn’t go to college or chose to just stay here,” Simmons said. “Why didn’t they go to University of Pennsylvania or Wake Forest or UCLA? My dad and I wanted to provide assistance with college scholarships and applications, that was our initial goal. At first, we struggled to get students to listen to us. Even though our services are free, we found that kids just didn’t understand what we were trying to do. We adjusted and shifted our focus and now, every student who works with us is assigned an Expert College counselor who has experience in college admissions.”
The college visit option through the foundation began when Simmons was working with three students who had been admitted to Weslyan University in Connecticut. He asked them if they planned to visit the school and all three said they did not. They either could not afford it or were not sure they would be able to attend. The foundation funded the trip for the three to visit the campus and, although they did not end up attending, the three students did end up going to college.
Simmons has also written a book, “Potential on the Periphery” which is a compilation of interviews with students who used his foundations services. The book is based on emails, phone calls and discussions about how the program helped them, describing what it is like to be a rural student in a large university.
“There are many challenges when you are from a small town like Milford and choose a college that is some distance from home,” Simmons explained. “At those colleges, you are competing with students from around the world, not just here in Delaware. I don’t want to make it sound like Delaware colleges are easy. They are not. But being seven, eight, ten hours from home can be a big challenge for many young people. I encourage you to apply to as many schools as you can and, have the mindset that if you get in, you go. Don’t limit yourself. Ask for help. There is no benefit in not asking for help when you need it and, in my experience, the kids who need the most help are the least likely to ask for it.”
One of the things that Simmons pointed out is that life is not fair but it is also not set in stone. Everything in life can be negotiated, adjusted and changed. His belief is that no one should dictate their lives based on what they were in high school. “Instead, dream big, step out of a comfort zone and try things they never thought they would,” Simmons said.
Information on Simmons and his foundation can be found at https://omariscottsimmons.com.
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