- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

Students at Duke Ellington School of the Arts may have expected Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex to be stuffy and staid. Instead, they had a pleasant surprise.
"They were pretty down to earth. I expected them to be stiffer. They're a little like us, but they still remained poised and acted like royalty," said Ryann Williams, 17, who was still beaming after the Congressional Awards ceremony where she received a bronze medal.
"My friend covered the event for our school and she told me they seemed a little stiff, but when the prince got on stage and started talking, he seemed cool," said Jade Foster, an 11th-grader at Ellington who hopes to become a journalist.
The couple, in town for a few days on official business, visited the arts school in Northwest yesterday for the Congressional Awards ceremony a program dear to the heart of the prince.
"When you think of all the schools they could have visited like Banneker or the School Without Walls, they chose us. I guess it's because we represent excellence in the arts and in academics," said Jade, 16.
The prince, dressed in a conservative gray suit, took to the stage and immediately ingratiated himself with the students. "The reason I know about this award is because I made the mistake of doing it when I was in school," joked the prince, who received the Gold Duke of Edinburgh's award in 1986.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democrat and the District's nonvoting representative in Congress, presented Congressional Awards to Ryann, a junior who attends Banneker High School in Northwest. Jehan Carter, a 2000 graduate of Banneker, who now attends the University of Virginia, became the first D.C. recipient of the gold medal. Ellington senior Robert Stevens, 18, received a bronze certificate and rousing applause from fellow students.
Principal Mitzi Yates greeted the royal couple in the school's gallery before escorting them into the Duke Ellington Theatre, where the student body of roughly 490 turned out en masse to see them firsthand and cheer their classmates during the hourlong awards ceremony and performance.
The program opened with the school's concert choir and its rendition of Julia Ward Howe and William Steffe's 1861 "Battle Hymn of the Republic," under the direction of Samuel Bond. Then Ms. Yates welcomed her special guests. In her opening remarks, the principal noted that it was a "soft, gray British day" and offered Prince Edward condolences on behalf of the school on the recent death of his grandmother, known to the world as the Queen Mum.
The royals didn't twist and shout in their seats during the soul-stirring performance by the students, which included a piece by the Duke Ellington Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Davey Yarborough and a modern dance piece performed to the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock's "Motherless Child." But the artsy Ellington students screamed, cheered, whistled and offered their classmates much support.
The Congressional Award is a public-private partnership created by Congress to recognize achievement, initiative and service in Americans ages 14-23. The award provides a unique opportunity for young people to set and achieve goals that build character and foster community service, personal development and citizenship. To earn the award, participants set and achieve individual goals in four areas: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness and expeditions. The different award levels require an increasing level of commitment and effort.
"The program is there for you you were given four broad headings, but it's up to you [to determine how to make it work]. The bottom line is having fun. And, when you leave school, you've got the confidence to go out into the world," the prince said.
The Congressional Award is similar to the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, which began in 1957 in the United Kingdom. "It was an opportunity for me to broaden my skills. We all have to have motivation in our lives. I don't know about you, but academic work didn't make me want to get up in the morning. [But] there is something that drives you," Prince Edward told the students.
More than 60 countries have formed programs inspired by the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. Prince Edward serves as the chairman of the International Award Council.
After the ceremony, award recipients had a chance to chat with Prince Edward and his wife before they were whisked off.
The consensus among the young people is that the royals aren't as stiff as they are perceived to be.
"What's funny is that you have this impression that they're uptight. They have a warm spirit and they were both very encouraging. I didn't find them to be stiff or uptight at all. In layman's terms they were down to earth," said Jehan, 19.

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