By B.L. Wilson
The cohort of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholars graduating from the George Washington University this month have found over the past four years that challenging themselves, exploring outside of their comfort zones could sometimes come with missteps but big rewards.
DeLante Fludd, a theater and dance major, focused on academics—attending classes and studying—in his first year at GW. As a sophomore, he became more involved in campus activities, joining the Indian folk dance group Bhangra. He became a group captain in his junior year.
“An amazing experience, an African American teaching people Bhangra,” said Mr. Fludd, who also studied theater at Accademia Dell’Arte in Italy. “New members were kind of hesitant, but they enjoyed me as their captain.”
Personal growth was a recurring theme Sunday evening at the City View Room, where graduating SJT scholars were celebrated. The scholarship named in honor of former George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg provides a full, four-year education to the best and brightest seniors graduating from public, private and charter schools in the District of Columbia.
Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement Helen Cannaday said the SJT scholars “have met every expectation that [President-Emeritus Trachtenberg] had in mind when he created the scholarship back in 1989.”
GW President Steven Knapp noted in a video message of congratulations that alumni SJT Scholars are pursuing graduate and Ph.D. degrees, are employed as deans, faculty, physicians, lawyers, artists, CEO’s, engineers and are leaders in their communities.
The scholars also heard from SJT alumnus William Alexander, B.S. ’04, who congratulated the scholars on the excellence they have achieved and urged them to “go as far as you can in your careers.”
“But when you get to that point, you need to know to create spaces for other excellent people who have not had the opportunities to bring them in as well,” Mr. Alexander said.
Scholars shared solemn reflective moments interspersed with levity and expressions of gratitude to family, peers and GW staff.
Briana Whitefield, an exercise science major with a minor in public health, did not join the SJT Scholars cohort that started at GW in fall 2013 until the spring 2014 semester after giving birth to a son.
“Being a mother in college has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in life, but the experience was amazing,” said Ms. Whitefield, who did not have time for many campus activities. “I learned to manage my time, my finances. When you talk about ‘adulting,’ I’ve been adulting since I was 18 years old,” said Ms. Whitefield.
She encouraged incoming SJT scholars to take advantage of everything on campus. “Join the dance team,” she said. “Be a president. Be a captain.”
Timothy Hursen, who is majoring in Arabic studies and International Affairs, said he had his life all figured out when he arrived as a freshman, having studied Arabic since he was 8 years old. A class in linguistics caused him to stray from plans of becoming “a State Department big wig and ambassador.”
“I had a new appreciation for what it meant to be a language teacher and when the opportunity arose, I jumped on it,” Mr. Hursen said. “I am now an Arabic teacher.”
The SJT program changed the way many saw their hometown—Washington, D.C.—and created lifelong bonds.
Charleene Smith, a human service and social justice major, interned at the Justice Department in the Office of the Attorney General’s child protection section.
“I basically shadowed an attorney there,” she said. “I went to court with her, different depositions, witness preparation for trial. I’m still actually in contact with her.”
The four years were not without struggle, said SJT scholar and biology major David Hernandez, who is the first in his family to go to college.
Last year, he lost his father. However, he said he found a “father figure in George Rice,” associate director of GW’s Multicultural Student Services Center who coordinates the SJT program.
Mr. Hernandez thanked Mr. Rice for “the words of the week, for the Rice-isms and for keeping us in line to make sure we do what we have to do so we can get where we want to be.”
To hear Mr. Rice tell it, there was never any doubt about the cohort achieving academic success. “I won’t say congratulations,” he said. “This was your destiny laid out long before you were a twinkle in your ancestors’ eyes.”