- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Marta Genovez knew getting to college wouldn’t be easy when she and her family arrived from El Salvador four years ago. But she didn’t anticipate just how tough it turned out to be.

“Coming to this country was a culture shock,” said Miss Genovez, a senior at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Northwest. “We all lived in my grandmother’s one-bedroom apartment, my father was trying to find a job, and I didn’t know the language. I didn’t imagine that it would be that difficult.”

But the 19-year-old persevered, maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average and keeping her aspiration of higher education alive. Her hard work paid off last week when she and four other area high school seniors were awarded $10,000 scholarships from the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Inc.

Marc Clinedinst of Fredericksburg, Va.; Naode Girmay of Rockville; Terah Pinder of Grasonville, Md.; and Lisa Pin of Farmville, Va., also received scholarships. The five were among 107 students in the country to be named 2005 Horatio Alger National Scholars.

Additionally, the students received an expenses-paid trip to the 2005 Horatio Alger National Scholars Conference, which will take place April 6 to 9 in the District.

“The Horatio Alger Association is excited to recognize the hard work that has enabled these young people to triumph over incredible challenges in their lives,” said Dennis R. Washington, the organization’s chief executive.

Marc, a senior at Courtland High School in Spotsylvania, Va., had such a challenging path to the top. His father died six years ago, leaving him and his two brothers on their own.

“I had kind of a rough childhood,” said Marc, 17. “When I was in sixth grade, my father lost his job at the farm he worked on, and we had to move in a homeless shelter for about five months. Then my father passed away.”

Marc and his brothers then stayed with his church’s priest for about eight months before moving in with his mother and stepfather in 2000.

Marc has been accepted to the College of William & Mary, where, he said, he will major in English in hopes of becoming a journalist. He said the scholarship is much-needed.

“My family’s not poor, but we’re not well-off. My mother, I don’t think she was expecting to have us now because my father had custody, so she and my stepfather didn’t really have any [money] saved” for college.

More than 20,000 high school seniors applied for the Alger scholarships. Each had to describe their personal adversities and how they overcame them.

Miss Genovez said her academic success was fueled partly by her family’s financial struggles, and her desire to lessen the burden on her parents.

“We had to go live with another relative about six months after we arrived,” she said. “I didn’t want to give any more trouble to my family.”

Miss Genovez’s father eventually found work, and her family since has moved into its own home in the District. She hopes to attend Trinity University in the District.

Naode, 16, an honors student at Wheaton High School in Montgomery County is an aspiring architect who has applied to Virginia Tech, Morgan State and Montgomery College.

He cites his family as inspiration to maintain a positive attitude in his rough neighborhood of Rock Creek Terrace, where he lives with his mother and 11-year-old sister.

“Where we live, there’s a lot of crime in the area,” Naode said. “My [motivation] is to not give my mother any problems and keep my head straight.”

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