USA: Some students get into college the hard way; they earn it – By Mohamed Hamaludin

Some students get into college the hard way; they earn it


News that the FBI charged 50 rich people in a bribery scheme to get their  low academically achieving daughters and sons into Ivy League schools has been making headlines around the country.

Perhaps less known are the instances in which low-income African American students have made it into top schools the hard way: They earned it.

Jakelia Baker, 17, of Augusta, Ga., applied to 65 colleges and was accepted by 55 and offered scholarships worth $1.3 million, The Washington Post reported on Friday. The Lucy Craft Laney High School student in Augusta will graduate in May as valedictorian with a 4.1 GPA. She has taken honors and Advanced Placement classes, served as president of the National Honor Society and the student council, excelled at sports and found time for extracurricular activities.         

It took a lot of discipline, which Jakelia said she learned from her mother, a military veteran, and spending spare time between classes and games on homework and college applications.

“If you continue to keep pushing, you will succeed,” she said.

Jordan Nixon, also 17, of Douglas County High in Atlanta, was accepted to 39 colleges and scholarships worth $1.6 million, People magazine and other news media reported in early March.

Micheal Brown, 17, of Mirabeau B. Lamar High School in Houston sent out 20 applications  and all were accepted, with scholarship offers totaling $260,000, CNN reported in March last year. He too excelled in academics and participated in extracurricular activities, including volunteering for political campaigns from “the moment I saw Barack Obama get elected.”

Micheal’s mom Berthinia Rutledge-Brown, who worked two jobs, gave birth to him after losing three babies and she decided to use “all of her energy into giving him the very best that she possibly could,” CNN said.

“For me, it’s important to highlight that I’m not the only student of color who is achieving,” Micheal said.

Richard Jenkins, 18, Philadelphia’s Girard College’s 2018 valedictorian, was homeless in the sixth grade and was called “Harvard” by bullies because he was always reading, The Associated Press reported in May 2018. He got the last laugh, gaining admission to Harvard on a full scholarship.

“I was so embarrassed to say I lived in a shelter,” he told WHYY. “But that’s when I realized I’ve got to buckle in because I can’t have my potential kids going through what I’m going through now.”

Richard’s application was among 39,506 which Harvard received for the undergraduate class of 2021, CNBC reported. Only 2,037 were accepted, or about 5.2 percent.

Mekhi Johnson, 17, who attended Baltimore’s Gilman School, was among only a handful of students nationwide accepted into all eight Ivy League schools, The Baltimore Sun reported in May 2018. He was motivated at age 6 by a story on the radio about a boy who did just that.

 “Even at 6, he was pretty serious and goal-oriented,” his mother, Tawana Thomas Johnson, once told the paper. “He kept this idea in front of him through all those years.”

Mekhi, too, had a stellar academic record and also took part in extracurricular activities, including helping low-income elementary school students.

Educational success in difficult circumstances comes in other ways, as well.

When Michelle Jones, 45, who spent 20 years in prison in Indiana, convicted of killing her 4-year-old son, was released in August 2017, she had qualified to be a Ph.D. candidate at New York University, The New York Times reported in September 2017.  She was one of 18 applicants Harvard accepted from a total of 300.

The Times reported that Jones became pregnant at 14 after, she said, she was raped by a high-school senior and her mother beat her in the stomach with a board She spent time in group homes and with foster families. The child she bore from the assault died in 1992 “in circumstances that remain unclear,” The Times said, and his body was never found. She was originally sentenced to 50 years in prison but she was released sooner because of good behavior and educational accomplishments while incarcerated.

Her application to Harvard included remarks about her son: “I have made a commitment to myself and him that with the time I have left, I will live a redeemed life, one of service and value to others.”

She told The Times, “I knew that I had come from this very dark place — I was abhorrent to society. But for 20 years, I’ve tried to do right, because I was still interested in the world, and because I didn’t believe my past made me somehow cosmically un-educatable forever.”

There are many other deserving students no doubt waiting for an opportunity which may not come. The Atlantic reported that, between 1994 and 2015, enrollment of African Americans in Ivy League schools declined, averaging six percent: African Americans aged 20-24 are 15 percent of the population.

As the English poet Thomas Gray wrote in his 1751 Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:

“Full many a gem of purest ray serene,

         The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:

Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,

         And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

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  • Clyde Duncan  On April 4, 2019 at 10:55 am

  • dhanpaul narine  On April 5, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    Why write only about Americans? Our own Cyril Byran’s dad went to the London School of Economics, one of the top schools in the world. There are so many students from the Caribbean that came from poor backgrounds and earned their way to top universities. We should research them and publish it.

  • Kman  On April 8, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    You keep mentioning the value of these scholarships, and make it appear as if the prospective student will be able to get those amounts. But in fact, the high amounts you state are misleading, as the student can only accept to go to one college or university at a time. As a reporter, l am sure you could have explained those amounts in a better way.

    And yes, it is not only African Americans who earn their way, this is a worldwide thing for the poor and underprivileged.

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