Ballou High senior Tai'Lon Jackson reacted first with shock, then joy, when he was presented a full scholarship to George Washington University in a surprise assembly March 25 at the Southeast Washington school.
The scholarship, valued at $200,000, will cover tuition, room, board and books for four years at GW. The life-changing scholarship was presented to Tai'Lon by GW President Steven Knapp. Knapp traveled to six D.C. high schools March 25 to present a total of eight students with scholarships to the Foggy Bottom-based university.
As his name was called, Tai’Lon’s bottom lip dropped. He walked forward with a wide grin on his face still holding the trombone that he had moments earlier been playing as part of the program that he did not know had been put together to celebrate his accomplishment.
“Wow!” he said. He told the audience that he had grown anxious as the deadline approached for students to learn if they were accepted to the college.
“Thank you!” he told Knapp as they shook hands.
2014 is the 25th year that George Washington has presented the scholarships.
The Stephen Joel Trachtenberg (SJT) Scholarship is provided to eight “academically exceptional students” each year. The university has awarded more than $18 million to 149 students since the scholarship was first given in 1989, according to a statement.
“I always say—its’ really true—that it’s my favorite day of the year because we get to see the joy and the reaction both of the students and of their parents when they find out they’ve won a Trachtenberg scholarship,” Knapp said.
He said the university benefits by having “very talented and committed students” at GW who strengthen the university’s connection to the community.
“We also do it because we want to send the message out there to all the families in Washington D.C. that college—a university education—is the kind of thing that can be in the future of their daughters or sons and that there is aid available to help them do that,” Knapp said. “Families aren’t always aware of what the opportunities are. This is one of the ways in which we hope to publicize and inform the public about what the opportunities are out there.”
The first stop was Ballou at 9 a.m. At 1 p.m., Knapp was at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, where three students received scholarships.
Like Tai’Lon, each student was presented a letter of acceptance and a baseball cap adorned with “GW George Washington University.” Each of the students was surprised with the scholarship in a pre-planned event where parents joined in the surprise.
“The best moment is when we surprise the recipients with the news that their college years are paid for and their fellow students burst into cheers and applause,” Knapp said.
The recipients include:
• Tai’Lon Jackson of Ballou High School, who has been valedictorian since 10th grade and is the senior class president.
• Avery Coffey of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, who built a robot during an internship at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
• Reniya Dinkins of Banneker, who is chair of the D.C. Youth Advisory Council, which provides feedback to the mayor’s office on issues affecting youth in D.C.
• Meron Hagos of Banneker, a youth ambassador at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and at Children’s National Medical Center.
• Minh-Hong Nguyen of Capital City Public Charter School, who will be the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. She interned at a GW chemistry lab.
• Malachi Byrd of Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, a member of the D.C. National SLAM Poetry Team who performed in the national SLAM competition.
• China Green of Friendship Collegiate Academy, who studied philosophy and Mandarin at Duke University last summer.
• Llewellyn “Xavier” Richie of KIPP Public Charter Schools, who is president of the National Honor Society and has a dream to end poverty.
“This year’s SJT scholarship recipients represent the best combination of strong intellect, commitment to community and fierce determination," said Karen Felton, director of admissions at GW. “They are scholars and role models who will undoubtedly make their mark at the university and beyond.”
The students are awarded based on grades, SAT scores, course of study, teacher recommendations, leadership qualities, community service and other extracurricular activities and achievements, the university said. Students are nominated by their high school counselors. About 90 percent of the scholars go on to graduate from GW.