After two years, Celebration of Scholarships and Fellowships Dinner returns to in-person celebration at Kennedy Center’s REACH.
By Ruth Steinhardt and B.L. Wilson
In some ways, Randy Ray credits romance with his decision to become a doctor. When Ray worked in humanitarian aid in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he was often drawn to a hospital campus in the town of Niakunde to spend time with public health officer Floramae Esapebong. In addition to seeing Esapebong—who is now his wife—Ray began shadowing a CME Nyankunde Hospital missionary surgeon at work, gradually awakening a passion for medicine.
Ray “was prepared to take out $300,000 in debt to become a doctor,” he said. But after being accepted to the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, he learned that he had received a Eugene B. Casey Scholarship and S. Jay Hazan M.D. Endowed Scholarship, opening a pathway to his dream of becoming a volunteer doctor. He is now in his final year at GW and recently matched for residency at the top-ranked Boston Children’s Hospital, where he will complete his medical training in pediatrics and medical genetics.
“To be able to provide free care for people who can’t afford to pay for care requires that I don't have someone else who is requiring me to pay them money—which I don’t, now,” he said. “Because of the generosity of GW donors, I can actually fulfill my dream of providing free care for communities in need.”
Ray and Esapebong, now also a GW student pursuing a doctorate in public health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, were featured in a video shown at GW’s Celebration of Scholarships and Fellowships Dinner Friday night. After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held in person at the REACH at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, giving almost 300 GW students and the donors who have supported their education a chance to meet and share stories.
GW President Mark S. Wrighton expressed his gratitude to donors for their support of GW scholars and their families.
“We are very grateful,” he said. “This is instrumental in terms of significance and transformational. I myself am the son of parents who did not go to college… I had no idea that I would ever end up as a professor and certainly not as a university president. So the opportunity to pursue college was transformational for me. For so many people in our country, this is a great and important aspiration.”
Donna Arbide, vice president for development and alumni relations, noted the university’s emphasis on making sure a GW education is available and affordable for the university’s best students, including through the focused fundraising initiative Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships. “Together, as we enter GW’s third century, we are prioritizing affordable and accessible education for talented and deserving students,” she said.
Student speakers also shared their stories. Sophomore Joseph Decilos, a recipient of the Margaret D. Rust Memorial Scholarship, discussed how his upbringing in a border community in Texas and the local legends he and his classmates gossiped about instilled in him a passion for storytelling.
“I was inspired to learn more about how we as a society holistically communicate and create stories,” he said.
Decilos now channels that narrative drive into the pursuit of journalism and photojournalism at the School of Media and Public Affairs and the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. He was joined at the dinner by his parents, Estelle and Fernando, on their first visit to Washington, D.C.
“My parents raised me to be able to face any adversity regardless of circumstances and resources,” Decilos said. “I remember the excitement and the wave of relief once we found out about this scholarship.”
Senior speaker Prashamsha Rayamajhi grew up in Nepal, spending summers in the town of Pokhara under the shadow of Machhapuchhre, the world’s highest mountain never to have been officially summited. After her family emigrated to the United States in 2012, Rayamajhi became aware of and outraged by the disparity of resources between her new home and Global South societies like Nepal, spanning everything from advanced technology to clean water. Now a member of the Students Against Imperialism organization, she plans to attend law school after graduation.
“One of my favorite memories were holidays like Tihar, where neighborhoods would be lit with candles and decorated with flowers and mandalas,” said Rayamajhi, a recipient of the Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation Scholarship. “I’m so proud of my culture, and I feel lucky to be on a campus like GW where culture is so celebrated.”
Hearing directly from students who have made the most of their opportunity is “the reason why I am never embarrassed to ask for money” for student aid, said Arbide, who said she also relied on need-based funding as a student.
“To the donors in the room: We are extremely grateful,” she said. “You transform lives, and for that I cannot imagine a greater love in the world.”
Learn more about how GW is expanding access to the transformative power of a GW education through scholarships and fellowships. Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships charts a course to expand opportunity for the next generation of leaders at GW.