- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dayna Hudson couldn’t stop wiping away her tears of joy - and relief. The 17-year-old from Southeast learned Friday that she was among nine high school seniors from the District to receive full scholarships to George Washington University. With the economy plummeting, Dayna said that without the grant it would have been impossible for her to afford college in the fall.

“It seems like a dream right now,” she said. “I’m sure after I go home and let it settle in I’ll be fine, but I just cannot believe this.”

University officials awarded the scholarships during a ceremony at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Students thought they were attending a musical performance, but arrived to be told they each would receive a scholarship worth about $200,000 to attend the university.

Parents had been notified earlier in the week that their children were selected, and they struggled to remain mum.

Many made up stories about their plans for Friday, trying not to give away that they would be attending the event.

“It was very hard,” said Cynthia Hudson, 37, Dayna’s mother. “I had to make up an excuse that I was going for a job interview, because normally I don’t have to be at work until the afternoon.”

The university has offered the scholarships to D.C. public school students for the past 20 years. Students apply for the program and are selected based on academic achievement, extracurricular activities and financial need. University officials say the graduation rate for those receiving the scholarships is nearly 90 percent.

“We have lots of universities in this city,” said Kaya Henderson, deputy chancellor of D.C. schools. “None has stepped up and given the kind of confidence that GW has in D.C. public schools.”

The scholarships come at a time when several colleges are struggling to avoid budget and scholarship cuts.

GWU President Steven Knapp said the university has expected some downturn in its $1 billion endowment. But reserve funds and other revenue - including tuition that tops $41,000 a year - have helped keep the school’s funding for grants and scholarships robust, totaling $133 million for next year.

“Right now, we’re in good shape,” he said, but the university will continue to monitor the economic fallout.

For Joseph Church, 17, of Northwest, the scholarship will mean he won’t have to work his way through school while studying to become an engineer. He said his classmates are “trying to figure out how they’re going to pay for college, and I just found out, so it’s a pretty cool experience.”

Several parents say the news couldn’t have come at a better time.

Shawn Wilkins, 47, of Southeast, brought about 10 family members and friends, who cheered as her daughter, Malissa, 17, walked across the stage when her name was announced.

Mrs. Wilkins was laid off in January 2008 from her position at a clinic call center, and has yet to find a permanent job. She also has a son working three jobs as he tries to finish college. Her husband is trying to keep them afloat.

“We can be at ease, and she’s going to have a successful future,” Ms. Wilkins said of her daughter. “I hope she gets everything she deserves, because she’s worked tirelessly.”

Other scholarship winners include Jasmin Cook, Hannah During, Whitley Lucio, Alyssa Edwards, Charlie Pulliam-Moore and Hong-Qian Zhu.

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