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SIMMONS: D.C. scholarship winners are bright spot in grim picture

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Good news in D.C. public schools is sometimes hard to come by, because of jaw-dropping stories about fourth-graders taking cocaine to school, students' misdeeds on public transportation and youth-on-youth violence.

It's easy to get the impression that D.C. kids are a bunch of hopeless misfits.

Then along come exceptional teens who paint a brighter picture, such as the ones Wednesday morning at Thurgood Marshall Academy, where two students learned they are among nine D.C. students who earned a free four-year ride to the venerable George Washington University as recipients of the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship.

Applause, applause, please for Hope Ajayi, Chidi Aqbaeruneke, Moo Bae, Markus Batchelor, Adam Middleton, Sarai Reed, Alena Russell, Angela Sako and Jasmine Vicencio for earning a renewable scholarship worth more than $200,000.

"GW was always on my list," said Markus of Thurgood Marshall, who wants to major in political science and become D.C. mayor.

Like classmate and fellow recipient Moo Bae, Markus applied at Ivy League schools and said academic expectations will remain high even though he will be closer to home.

"We've been prepared for the academic rigors, but we'll have much more responsibility away from home and a rigorous curriculum," said Markus, who has a 3.23 GPA. "The new challenge will be getting adjusted as a freshman and balancing all that."

Moo, who has a 3.14 GPA and wants to become an educator, agreed.

"TMA set us on a path with rigorous courses, and in the fall I have to get adjusted to living away from my parents and family."

The 22-year-old scholarship program has a 90 percent graduation rate, but as important is GW's commitment to the D.C. community.

"These scholarships are inspirational to students that are positioned for post-secondary education," GW President Steven Knapp told The Washington Times after the ceremony. "The university is part of the city. The scholarship program is a vote of confidence."

Mr. Knapp also said he has spoken with Mayor Vincent C. Gray, a GW alum, about job creation and the economic vitality of the city.

"The university is aligned with the needs of the city. We're planning a job summit and job fair to help match up human capital with the local [labor] market."

Thanks, GW, for brightening the futures of hardworking D.C. students, and congratulations to the winners, who, it is hoped as members of the Class of 2015, will find a far more hospitable labor market than the gloomy pictures painted by today's prospects.

•   •  

A moment for Liz Taylor, who died Wednesday: I met Miss Taylor at a "Roots" Kennedy Center event back in the day when I worked on a gossip column at the old Washington Star. She walked in draped in indulgent fur with then-husband Sen. John W. Warner. As photographers did their thing, Miss Taylor dropped one shoulder, and as the fur slipped her hubby was right there to catch it.

As Mr. Warner chatted up reporters, Miss Taylor ambled over to where I was standing, near a buffet table.

She grabbed a napkin and ate a few pieces of chicken, but didn't know where to deposit her trash.

After noticing me, she handed me her garbage, but turned a wonderful shade of blush after reading my media credentials.

"I'm so sorry," she said.

"No worries," I responded. "It's probably the black suit and white blouse that had you thinking what you were thinking."

We both enjoyed a hearty chuckle.

And, yes.

Her legendary violet eyes were indeed striking.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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