Making it through college debt-free is a common goal for students and parents, and four area high school graduates are on their way to keeping a comfortable wallet for the next four years.
Alcovy High School senior Lesley Ochei and Newton High School seniors Eboni Wimbley, Brandon Hayden and Gloria Alafe were each named a 2014 Gates Millennium Scholar, each becoming one of 1,000 students nationwide who will receive a full-ride scholarship to pursue any degree in any undergraduate major at any accredited college or university of their choice.
“This is an extraordinary achievement for Leslie, Gloria, Brandon and Eboni,” said Newton County School System Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey. “To be among just a thousand students in the United States to receive a Gates Millennium Scholarship is truly outstanding.
“It just goes to show that hard work and perseverance matters in school and also brings real rewards. Our goal this year was to be the best, and these students exemplify the very best that Newton County Schools has to offer.”
The goal of the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program is to promote academic excellence by providing thousands of outstanding students with a significant financial need the opportunity to reach their full potential. This good-through-graduation scholarship is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which established the GMS Program in 1999 to provide top-performing low-income African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American and Hispanic American students with the opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline they choose.
Gates Scholars may also request funding for a graduate degree program in specific discipline areas, including computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science.
The GMS Program also provides recipients with leadership development opportunities, mentoring and academic and social support. Recipients are found to have high graduation rates — a six-year rate of 87 percent, 28 percent higher than the national graduation rate for all students from high income families.
“I’m so grateful”
Lesley Ochei, who intends to major in pre-nursing at Georgia State University in the fall, was recently featured in The News for being named Alcovy’s Class of 2014 valedictorian.
“I want to one day become an emergency room nurse practitioner,” Ochei said. “I like helping people, so I think that would be great.
“I’ve always been fascinated about the body. My aunt used to be a nurse, and I have always liked reading her old nursing books. I find it so interesting. One day, I’d like to have a part in advancing medical knowledge and leading research.”
During her four years at Alcovy, Ochei took park in Latin Club, National Honor Society and Newton County Youth Leadership. She also volunteered at Newton Medical and is a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Ochei’s parents are Nigerian and met after moving to the United States. She said starting out, she did not care about school at all, but thanks to her parents, she learned to value education and truly enjoy her time in school.
She said she was in shock when she found out she was being named a Gates Scholar.
“I’m so grateful that I won this. It’s really truly a blessing to have something like this,” Ochei said. “It’s been one of my dreams to go to college debt-free and not have this weight on me because I want to be a full-time minister, also. Knowing that I don’t have these extra debts, it allows me to do so more freely.
“So they lifted a weight off my shoulders. It’s just a blessing. It’s so surreal to me, and I really appreciate the Gateses doing something like this for me.”
“I made them proud”
At Newton High School, the weight was lifted and gone, too.
“I was really excited and really happy because I got to take such a big burden off my parents,” said Eboni Wimbley, who plans on majoring in communication science and disorders at the University of Georgia to eventually become a speech pathologist. “I’ve been working really hard, and I know I made them proud by doing that.”
Wimbley also busied herself with clubs and school activities, including DECA, National Honor Society, Key Club, Interact Club, SECME Club, cheerleading and Ivy Prep. She also served as a Newton High School RAMbassador.
“Glad I could pay her back”
Brandon Hayden said he plans to make full use of his full-ride by majoring in communications at Georgia State before going on to pursue a doctorate in public health and science.
“I’m looking forward to it. If I have the opportunity to get a doctorate degree for free, why not?” Hayden said. “For a career, I wouldn’t want to work on the science of public health. I would want to go out and talk to people about eating healthy, write proposals and do things for the community. I love to talk, and I want to participate in changing kids’ lives by encouraging them to eat healthy and stay on the right path.”
Hayden was also recently featured in The News for his leading role in Newton High School’s production of “The Wiz” as the Scarecrow. He said then he loved language and figuring out different ways people communicate with each other.
He was also enrolled in the Academy of Liberal Arts at Newton High School (ALANHS) and was involved with SECME Club, Interact Club and the Student Government Association. He was also selected to participate in Governor’s Honors.
“I’m a twin, so my mom would have had to pay double tuition, and she is in college right now,” said Hayden. “So this means so much. It felt good to make her proud and take the weight off of paying for two children at the same time.
“My mom has worked really hard her whole life and made sure I had everything I needed and wanted. I’m glad I could pay her back by not making her pay for college.”
Tears of joy
Gloria Alafe said she hopes to one day become either a general surgeon or cardiovascular surgeon after college, where she plans to start off by majoring in anthropology and human biology at Emory University.
Alafe was also an ALANHS student, and she filled up her high school resume with Governor’s Honors, RAMbassadors, FBLA, Interact Club and Rams United. She served as vice president of the Student Government Association, secretary of Key Club and president of National Honor Society.
Being named a Gates Scholar brought tears of joy to her entire family, Alafe said.
“My momma was crying, and then I started crying,” Alafe said. “I was so happy. I was surprised because I had no idea I was going to get it. I’m just so honored.”