Photograph by Gabrielle Plucknette
The six members of the Scholarship Plus Class of 2013 bring to 23 the number of students who receive scholarship funds and continuing support from us. Students in this year's class achieved outstanding records at high schools in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.
Vidal Nino de Guzman – Jamie, as he's called – is a friendly, energetic, optimistic young man who's in love with math and physics. Born here to Peruvian parents, he charged to the top of his class of 445 at Grover Cleveland High School in Queens and was salutatorian of his graduating class. Remarkably, Jamie studied AP Physics and Calculus BC on his own, without a teacher. He got 5, the top score, on the Calculus test. For fun, he plays tennis and guitar – and tutors at a Komen Center. His counselor calls him "one of the most amazing students I've met in my career." Jaime will be an engineer, or maybe an architect. He has enrolled in the engineering program at Columbia.
About five years ago, Aixin Li landed in America and was greeted by a father she could hardly recognize. He had left China when she was only six to find a foothold in the United States. When Aixin got here, it was her turn to be the pathfinder – particularly in pursuit of a good education. She practiced English for hours unending, and when it came time for her to navigate the high school selection process she rejected two schools until she found the High School of Telecommunications Arts and Technology. It was a good match: she graduated first in her class of 314. Her teachers say she has a unique dedication to learning, an extraordinary work ethic, and a mind that constantly thinks out of the box, especially in math. Her next stop is Smith College.
Jeffrey Ng lived a schoolboy life in Wantagh, Long Island, until seventh grade, when his mother developed leukemia. Two years later his mom passed away, and the turmoil for Jeff became even worse. He found himself living alone at age 14, terrified that he would be tossed into the foster care system. His grandparents convinced him to join them in a Manhattan tenement. Jeff rebuilt his life from that base. He found a church in Times Square where he played the guitar for children. And he found his way through the city's high school maze to Aviation High School in Queens, where he has excelled. Already authorized to service the structures and engines of a Boeing jet, Jeff has enrolled at Polytechnic Institute of New York University to study aeronautical engineering.
Shaunpaul Jones, who was an outstanding senior at the Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School, plans to become a doctor. But judging from his application, he has the soul of a poet. He writes about the challenges in his life with deep emotion. In elementary school he often spent many hours – even days – in lonely silence in a challenged family. He grew to enjoy the challenge of public speaking, though, and was valedictorian of both his lower and middle school. Several years ago he was selected to join The Fellowship Initiative, financed by JP Morgan Chase & Co. to help promising black and Latino boys do well in high school and go to college. He talks excitedly about the retreats the group spent together far from the city helping build each other's strength and self-confidence. Shaunpaul has enrolled at Amherst.
Philomina Kane was born in the Bronx, then made a five-year detour as an infant to live in Ghana with her grandmother when her parents split up. She graduated near the top of her class at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics. At Manhattan Center she was a leader and a strong student, especially in the sciences. Her award-winning research during the last few years focused on the electrical engineering of the brain. She's not all work: She loves poetry and competes successfully in poetry slam contests. And the love for the culture of Ghana that she formed as a young girl continues: she talks excitedly about a dance group she created at school that performs a popular Ghanaian dance called Azonto. Her next stop is Princeton.
Emony Robertson graduated as president of the first senior class of the Business of Sports School in Manhattan. The oldest of four girls, Emony has managed to stay positive even in the rough times. She remembers one Christmas when the family was in a shelter and she and her mother went on a tightly budgeted shopping spree to surprise her little sisters and another family living there. The surprise on Christmas morning? A small Christmas tree and a gift for each of them. Emony has a keen interest in entrepreneurship and in law, the latter fostered by an outstanding high school program called Legal Outreach. She also has a passion for singing. That may be genetic: Her great aunt was the famed singer and actress Pearl Bailey. Emony has matriculated at Cornell.
Each of the students nominated a teacher or other adviser who had been of special help over the years. As part of the class welcoming ceremony, each teacher was presented a certificate and a small honorarium. Teachers and students came to the microphones and said a few words about one another -- to the accompaniment of both laughter and tears, on the state and in the audience.
These were the indivduals named Teachers Who Made a Difference: Twinkle Morgan, executive director of the Fellowship Initiative, nominated by Seanpaul Jones; Diva M. Morillo, Aviation High's parent coordinator, nominated by Jeffrey Ng; Samantha Schoeller, Social Studies teacher at the High School for Telecommunications Arts and Technology, nominated by Aixin Li; Mary Kate McCaughey, director of college guidance for the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America Program (LEDA), nominated by Philomina Kane, and Marius Cosma, math teacher at Grover Cleveland High School, nominated by Vidal "Jamie" Nino de Guzman.