GW Awards 10 D.C. High School Seniors Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarships

The Class of 2028 recipients will join a prestigious and proud program that covers tuition, room, board, books and fees throughout four years at GW.

March 7, 2024

SJT Day 2024

Roosevelt High School senior Constance Johnson shares an emotional moment with her mother, Sheri, after being surprised with an SJT scholarship on Wednesday morning in Roosevelt's library. (Photos by William Atkins/GW Today)

It all seemed like a regular Wednesday morning for Constance Johnson, a senior at Roosevelt High School in the District of Columbia’s Petworth neighborhood in Northwest. She was finishing up some schoolwork in the library with three of her friends. Her back was turned toward the library door, where a commotion that she could not see slowly began to form.

When she turned around, her life would forever be changed.

A contingent from the George Washington University, including President Ellen M. Granberg, greeted Johnson with Buff and Blue balloons, smiles and the largest of rewards for a life of hard work, perseverance and leadership.

Granberg and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Ben Toll presented her with a signed letter admitting her to GW as a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg scholar, inviting her to join a prestigious and proud program that covers tuition, room, board, books and fees throughout four years at GW for incoming first-year students from D.C. Launched in in 1989 by then-GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg under the name 21st Century Scholars, the scholars are hand-picked based on exceptional academic performance, leadership and extracurricular activities including community service.

“We have the pleasure of working with over 27,000 applicants from all across the world who want to come to D.C. for their education, but it's incredibly special for us when we can work with students who've grown up here and had an amazing educational experience in our high schools that are able to stay in the area for their educational experience,” Toll said.

Johnson was one of 10 Class of 2028 recipients who received similar surprise visits Wednesday and Thursday at their respective schools and institutions.

“I’m overwhelmed and a little emotional,” said Johnson, whose eyes were watered down by the weight of the tremendous accomplishment she had just achieved. It’s easy to understand why.

Education has always played a big role in Johnson’s life. One of her mothers, Sheri Johnson, is a longtime senior programs specialist at the National Parent Teacher Association and shared the special moment with her on Wednesday. The other is former D.C. Public Schools (DPCS) Officer of Engagement and Partnerships Shanita Burney, who died last March after battling pancreatic cancer. She was there in spirit.

“This is an opportunity for Constance to carry on her vision through her service,” said DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, M.A. ‘00. “Her service will be a testament to Shanita’s service here in DCPS. We know that she is a future changemaker here in D.C.”

Johnson has been engaged in many ways during her time as a student at DCPS, including being a tutor, a leader on Roosevelt’s volleyball and bowling teams, enrolling in summer coursework from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and interning with D.C.’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education. She is proud to live out the vision set forth by her mothers while paving a path for other native Washingtonians.

“[Education] has created stability and helped me to stay on track and motivate me, and I hope to leave behind a legacy that people could follow,” Johnson said. “I have some very big shoes to fill because of my parents, but I want to leave behind that same legacy that they gave to me.”

Johnson will study public health, focusing on ways to minimize the health disparities facing Black residents in D.C.

“She is an awesome person already, and I can’t imagine where she is going to grow,” a beaming Sheri Johnson said. 

SJT Day 2024
President Ellen M. Granberg presents Bruktawit Tesfaye with an SJT scholarship at Capital City Public Charter School on Thursday. (William Atkins/GW Today)

At nearby Columbia Heights Educational Campus on Thursday, Jaeden Gbaba experienced a similar fate when Granberg, mascot George and the rest of the GW crew involved burst into his first-period class with the life-changing news that he would be admitted to the university cost free. “This is better than paying off a mortgage!” one staff member at the school proclaimed.

This relief is especially meaningful to Gbaba and his family, which had extended members descend to Columbia Heights Educational Campus from Philadelphia as well as hours away in Virginia to be there for the big moment.

His family left Liberia due to civil war, and Gbaba has spent much of his life moving around the D.C. area. Thanks to the scholarship, he’ll be firmly planted in the nation’s capital with his elated family nearby.

“It is just amazing,” his father, Jacques Gbaba, said. “He has always excelled and knows what he wants, so this isn’t really surprising to us, but we are so proud of him. In this age, to have him go to college for free, that’s every parent’s dream come true.”

Gbaba’s mother, Aisha Miller, also expressed pride and excitement as she wiped away tears of joy. “I am so grateful for the opportunities Jaeden will have,” she said.

During high school, Gbaba has been a class representative on the Honor Council, a director of the African and Caribbean Student Union, team captain of the FIRST Robotics Club and a member of the swim and soccer teams. His volunteer efforts include service to Tree Fredericksburg and Hazel Hill Healthcare Project.

Gbaba has a particular interest in the STEM fields, especially after teachers recognized his talents and recommended him for summer programs. He will study engineering as he hopes to work in the defense industry someday, and he is excited he doesn’t have to go far to begin his pursuit of that.

“It’s very special to stay here,” Gbaba said. “It’s just a great place to live and a great city with a lot of opportunities, especially for STEM and engineering. I'm very grateful for that opportunity.”

On Thursday, six other D.C. high school seniors had public reveals as SJT Class of 2028 members. They include Jaden Davis and Esther Espinosa Dilone of Washington Latin Public Charter; Jaden DeGruy of Benjamin Banneker High School; Zyad Shahrli of Jackson Reed High School; Aanisah Myers of Eastern High School; and Brukawit Tesfaye of Capital City Public Charter School.

In addition, Iansa Powell became the first-ever SJT scholar from Georgetown Day School.

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.