University Surprises D.C. High School Students with Full Scholarships

SJT Scholars

By Julyssa Lopez

An explosion of camera flashes and applause overwhelmed the Thurgood Marshall Academy gymnasium in Southeast D.C. Students broke out into gleeful shouts, administrators whipped out their iPhones for pictures and a gaggle of cheerleaders bounced across the floor for a cheer. In the center of it all, senior DeLanté Fludd stood speechless, overcome with a rush of pride, shock and surprise.

He’d done it. He’d been chosen as a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship recipient to the George Washington University.

All day, Mr. Fludd had been anxiously awaiting news of the prestigious GW award, which covers tuition, room, board, books and university fees for exceptional students in the District of Columbia. Just that morning, he’d approached a teacher and asked, “Do you think I’d actually be able to win it? Could you see me on GW’s campus?” His question was answered as George Washington President Steven Knapp, accompanied by Colonials mascot George, proudly announced his name during an assembly before his entire senior class.

Mr. Fludd wasn’t alone. The surge of energy was replicated again and again yesterday as Dr. Knapp and GW administrators surprised students from six D.C. high schools with news of their scholarships. Named for former GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the SJT scholarships have been awarded to 140 District students since the program began 24 years ago, and this year, eight more joined their ranks: Mr. Fludd; Joycelynn Kane from School Without Walls; Timothy Hursen from Washington Latin Public Charter School; Leslie Ogu and Charleene Smith from McKinley Tech High School; David Hernandez-Pineda and Olivia Persons from Benjamin Banneker High School; and Briana Whitfield from Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School.

"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. Ms. Felton spearheaded the competitive selection process, poring through student nominations from counselors from accredited public, private and charter high schools all over the city. Students were then selected for interviews based on their GPA, SAT scores, course curricula, academic achievements, community service and other extracurricular activities.

Of those interviewed, a group of eight academically diverse leaders emerged to form the 2017 class of SJT scholars: Mr. Fludd is a gifted thespian who’s appeared in his high school’s plays and musicals, while Ms. Kane and Mr. Ogu dream about one day attending law school. Ms. Persons lists internships at the National Zoo’s Asia Trail and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as steps toward her goal of becoming a veterinarian, and, after becoming fluent in Arabic, Mr. Hursen pioneered an Arabic language program at his high school.

Parents and families were notified of the awards a day in advance and tearfully joined students in celebrating at each school. “GW is a dream for me. When I found out, I was overjoyed,” said Mr. Fludd’s father, Alvin Fludd. Even local politicians took part in the festivities—D.C. Council member David Catania congratulated Ms. Kane at School Without Walls, and Kathy Arnold of D.C. Council member Marion Barry’s office attended Mr. Fludd’s assembly. Mr. Barry and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, B.S. ’64, also tweeted to announce the SJT scholars.

For some of the families, the scholarship represents new, uncharted territories. “I’m the first one in my family who’s going to go to college, so we’re very excited. My mom is going to go crazy today,” said Mr. Hernandez-Pineda, the youngest of three children in a family who emigrated from El Salvador.

“For many of us at GW, this is a favorite annual event,” said Dr. Knapp. “These talented students will bring a great deal to our campus, and I look forward to welcoming them.”

Alvin Fludd noted the scholarship opens myriad doors for his son and marks the beginning of a career full of opportunities. “Now, he can do whatever he wants to do,” he said.