- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2009


The largest graduating class of American high schools on record - 3.2 million students - is projected to graduate in about a month. With a dizzying volume applying to colleges, getting a slot in the freshman class of 2009 is not an easy task.

Amid an economic decline, many students’ dreams of attending a world-class university may remain just that - dreams.

George Washington University, however, has committed itself to making the dreams of nine D.C. area high school students a reality.

Twenty years ago, then-President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg created the 21st Century D.C. Scholarship. Renamed after its founder in 1999, the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship provides D.C. students with an academic opportunity that matches the academic excellence and potential they have shown.

Every year, thousands of students apply for admission into GWU, the bulk of whom are not from the District. The Trachtenberg scholarship sets out to connect with the District’s best and brightest, nurture their talents within George Washington’s walls, and build lasting relationships with the scholars that benefit the student, the school and the city.

Zakaree M. Harris, assistant director of undergraduate admissions, has played a major role in the application process for thousands of students - the Trachtenberg scholars in particular. His vision of the scholarship goes far beyond that of it just being a full ride to the school. “The SJT program really seeks to cultivate the sort of global citizen that will go out into the world and represent the university and the city. That said, we also aim at turning GW into a conduit to better D.C.”

In ensuring that a number of D.C. students come to the university, Mr. Harris says that culturally, GW is better off. “SJT scholars can really use their cultural experience to create a unique environment at the university that might not otherwise be there, you know. Being native Washingtonians, you know where things are, what there is to do; you have a leg up to build bridges, basically - and that’s definitely invaluable to both the scholars and the school.”

Nine students from five public and charter schools across the city joined the more-than 100 Trachtenberg scholars in early April. The ceremony, held at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, highlighted the success of past scholars and performances by the talented students of the hosting high school.

Christian Washington, a graduate of Wilson High School, headlined the event as speeches were made by GWU President Steven Knapp, Trachtenberg alumnus Will Alexander, D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown and others. The council took special pride in this year’s scholars, recognizing that two of its current interns, HongQian Zhu and Charles Pulliam-Moore, were chosen as recipients.

“This scholarship is just liberating for me,” HongQian said. “I can breathe easy now knowing that I’m going to a good school and that everything’s taken care of. It’s amazing.”

Mr. Harris made it clear that the program looks for things other than just a stellar transcript. “You’ve got to have that desire to succeed and to give back to the community. In whatever shape, that’s got to be a part of who you are,” he said. This year’s scholars have compiled impressive resumes, representing their many and varied interests. That, Mr. Harris said, is another sure sign of a potential Trachtenberg scholar.

“You’ve got to have passion about something,” Mr. Harris said. “You’ve got to be able to take that passion and turn it into something meaningful to yourself. We don’t assume what it is that you’ll be doing, but you’re so used to success that it becomes an afterthought.”

Charles G. Pulliam-Moore, a senior at Wilson High School, is an intern in the Office of the Chairman of the D.C. Council.

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