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Class of 2011

Brandon Hill

Hometown: Eden Prairie, MN

high school: Eden Prairie HS

college: Stanford University

MAJOR: Economics

November 4th, 2008. On this day, the spirit of a nation and the struggle of a people culminated in a grand display of perseverance and patriotism. On this day, the toil of an ancestor met redemption and the promises of a nation came to fruition. On this day, the American ideals of liberty and equality resounded from coast to coast, riding on the melody of a three word hymn: “Yes we can”. Barack Obama’s historic rise to the presidency indeed touched the hearts of millions, but it changed the world for one boy. The son of two loving parents, Brandon Hill has had support in all things he has done.

However, as a freshman in high school, he did not perform to the best of his ability. Without a definite goal, Brandon found himself studying without purpose and earning mediocre grades as a result. He was not tapping his full potential. This unmotivated track continued until the beginning of his sophomore year when Barack Obama’s election ignited Brandon’s passion and helped him to realize that his potential is limitless. In but one day, Brandon’s trajectory was realigned, placing him on his own campaign towards a presidency.

Recognized nationally for his involvements in both his school and community, Brandon is both a leader and scholar. He is the president of the Young Democrats club, an officer in his school’s National honor Society, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and a National Achievement Scholar Outstanding Participant. He is the recipient of the Minnesota State High School League ExCel Award which places him among the top 32 student-leaders in his state and is this year’s Martin Luther King Emerging Legend. Brandon’s business acumen took him to Louisville, KY where he was a top 20 finalist in the international DECA competition and his political prowess got him elected Governor of Minnesota Boys’ State. Known well as “Mr. President”, Brandon is most proud of his work with his organization, The Brotherhood.

Brandon is the president and co-founder of The Brotherhood and has taken the initiative to spark the potential of his peers. The Brotherhood is a fraternity at Eden Prairie High School dedicated to guiding minority males in unlocking their full potential and aims to defy the statistics and stereotypes that stigmatize black males in America. Now over 130 Brothers strong, The Brotherhood has changed the trajectories of many young people. Under his leadership, The Brotherhood has raised its combined GPA from a 1.90 to a 2.81.

With mettle and magnanimity, Brandon has made it his life goal to continue kindling passions and igniting possibility in young people, just as his own flame was fanned by Obama’s election. He is committed to empowering youth and changing the world in which he lives. He aspires to double major in political science and economics, then go on to pursue a Juris Doctorate before getting involved in politics. As he campaigns in the next stages of life, Brandon will never forget those stirring three words: Yes we can.

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Class of 2011

Desmond Garner

Hometown: Forkland, AL

high school: Alabama School of Science & Math

college: Vanderbilt University

MAJOR: Pre-Med

Desmond Garner hopes to take advantage of every opportunity that Vanderbilt University has to offer him while having a blast all the while. He aspires to combine his interests in finance and economics with his passion for foreign languages and cultures to pave an international career in economic development, business, or politics. A believer in the profound impact that a thorough education can have on one’s life, Desmond tutors a disadvantaged Hispanic student every week in order to develop and reinforce his skills in mathematics, reading, and writing. Also not willing to part with the jubilation he gains from singing, Desmond joined Vanderbilt’s Voices of Praise and relishes the gospel music they perform. Desmond also volunteers at the university’s child and family care center and loves being able to interact with the children by reading to them, preparing their snacks, and even going out to the playground with them.

One of Desmond’s immediate goals is to study abroad in both a Latin American country and to China in order to immerse himself in languages and ways of life different from his own in a distant, rural town in Alabama.

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Class of 2011

Dextina Booker

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

high school: The Secondary School for Law

college: MIT

MAJOR: Mechanical Engineering

Reared in Brooklyn with very Caribbean values, Dextina’s mother instilled in her a hunger to succeed very early, which was only strengthened when her family moved to Guyana. While in Guyana, Dextina was placed on the accelerated track skipping four grades. She finished Guyana’s middle school equivalent by the fourth grade. Dextina and her brother quickly learned to be very independent and responsible for their education, a trait that followed them when they returned to the American school system.

After returning to the United States, Dextina sought the most challenging educational programs available. She learned about Mott Hall, a junior high school with very deep roots in Science, Math and Technology. She jumped at the opportunity to apply and received admittance. While there she studied Chinese and took advantage of all of the resources she found. She learned about Prep 9, which prepares junior high kids for boarding school. After the two year program she received a full scholarship to Emma Willard’s, the boarding school. However, her mother, worried about the distance, prevented her matriculation.

In lieu of that lost opportunity, Dextina stumbled on Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, a college prep program for high achieving, and low income students of color in New York City public schools. While there she received a mentor and various opportunities that helped her to excel and win an EIL scholarship to travel to China for the summer. While juggling SEO, enrichment program applications, and various clubs and organizations, Dextina also spent much of her time taking care of her younger sister and the house when her mother couldn’t.

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Class of 2011

Kaila Gilbert

Hometown: La Vergne, TN

high school: La Vergne HS

college: Vanderbilt University

MAJOR: Pre-Med

Most parents discover their children when they first feel a kick in a mother’s stomach; Kaila Gilbert’s parents found out by a phone call at 11:30 at night when they finally had a match for adoption. Kaila’s life truly began then. Brought up from a long line of preachers, she never doubted the ultimate power of God in her life. Naturally inquisitive, she excelled at puzzles and competitions at a young age, which would later help her out scholastically. As she grew up, she discovered global problems that would lead her to a life dedicated to helping others. Her favorite quote comes from an orphan in Jane Eyre: “We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world.”

Voted “Most Diverse Playlist” in class, Kaila listens to everything from baroque music to inspirational rap. She has always had an open mind and a willingness to explore different situations. Seen stumbling around with classics like An American Tragedy at the age of 13, she cherished diversity although she composed 33.3% of the African-American population at her magnet school. She was introduced to the violin before attending public school. Falling in love with music, she began nursing her love for the arts. Receiving lessons in violin, piano, mandolin, and guitar by her youth minister and Nikki Owens, who saw her potential, she rose to the post of concertmaster of the Murfreesboro Youth Orchestra. As a devout believer in the arts, she is an actress and choreographer in the drama program and a volunteer music teacher at local schools. She also founded the Weary Blues Society, a community for writers at her school.

Kaila knows that to improve the world’s problems, she must prepare herself and others. Valedictorian and National Achievement Scholar, Kaila is the founder and captain of a 1st place linguistics team and recognized in the fields of science, music, marketing, and writing at the state level. She has taken every AP course her school offers and exhausted the list of mathematics courses. She is senior class president while holding prominent offices in nine clubs. She strongly plays a part in community service, and is ambassador with the Youth Leadership program. She’s been twice awarded the Track and Field Hope Award for optimism and athletic excellence.

While at Governor’s School for the Humanities, she developed Crohn’s disease. She swallowed 11 pills a day and lost 10 lbs rapidly. The medication was a large financial burden on a family struggling greatly in a rough economy. Nevertheless, they and she fought her weariness.

Kaila is not blinded to her background and is passionate about giving back. She interned at a local hospital. A counselor for the Inner-City Ministry, she used wisdom from adults to instill moral values in other youth. Adopted herself, she understands the effects of circumstance and will never forget her own good fortune. She will attend Vanderbilt University where she plans to study either law or gastroenterology to help lighten the burdens of the world.

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Class of 2011

Zachary Hall

Hometown: Worcester, MA

high school: Abby Kelley Foster Charter

MAJOR: Economics

Zachary Hall is an optimist. That is one of the most defining features about him because he tirelessly tries to find that beauty which surrounds him, not that which could be better. Whether or not there is rhyme or reason to the universe, every person brought one’s way brings boundless opportunity—opportunity to learn and opportunity to experience. Zach approaches every situation with such an attitude, trying to derive as much meaning from every moment as possible. As one of his favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton, wrote, “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” Zach never runs into inconveniences, only unexpected adventures.

While he is a leader; while he is a student; while he is an athlete, Zach is first and foremost a member of his community. He has been organizing and actively participating in community service since he entered the 5th grade. In his high-school career alone, Zach has completed over 250 hours of community service, all while maintaining his GPA and rank as third in his class.

Having served as his school’s varsity cross-country team captain for two years, as class president for four years, as the president and vice president of two different state organizations, and as a vice president of a national organization, he has used such positions to promote community service programs and robust participation from his peers. Besides implementing a service program for use by over 45,000 students nationwide, he has authored an eleven-page document on how to effectively promote service activities within schools. From his leadership experiences, he also has developed invaluable leadership skills and learned an array of life lessons, including the following:

“We are not to be blamed for the circumstances of our birth.
But we are to be held accountable for the progression of our lives.”

Many people see Zachary on an application—an African-American male born to a prison inmate and single mother—and expect another statistic. Does this ever discourage him from applying himself? Does this ever handicap him? Not in the least. Although they may try to create definitions, Zach doesn’t allow anyone to define him but himself. He leads his life just as he has the ultimate authority of its direction. He revels in breaking stereotypes and accomplishing what others say he never could do. Zach expects to live a full life. Not because it will be handed to him, but because he demands it of himself.

But celebrating one victory, he is already eyeballing and planning his next. Zach’s mentality does not stop here in the present; he looks to the future. He intends to double major in economics and political science and eventually attend graduate school. He would like to serve as an officer in the United States Army before moving on to his ultimate career goal, to be the executive of an international corporation. Although these plans may change over time, Zach knows with certainty that there is only one thing he wants to accomplish in his life: to create indelible change.

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Class of 2011

Keon Pearson

Hometown: Toledo, OH

high school: St. Francis de Sales

college: Harvard University

MAJOR: Human Evolutionary Biology

Keon Pearson was born in Toledo, Ohio and raised by a strong village including his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, neighbors, and mentors. His teachers in the public school system recognized his academic talents and invested heavily in him, enrolling him in gifted programs and nurturing his love of science and medicine. He attended St. Francis de Sales High School, a prestigious Catholic Boys School in Toledo, where he graduated as the first African American valedictorian. From St. Francis he went on to study human biology at Harvard College. While in college, he was very active in the arts scene, singing with the Harvard Glee Club and other ensembles. He engaged in research on longevity at the Harvard School of Public Health. He moved westward to study medicine at Stanford, where he also earned an M.B.A. 

He plans to complete residency and combine pursue a career oriented around solving our nation’s racial health disparities. His ultimate goal is to empower people to live long and healthy lives regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. 

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Class of 2011

Hana Page

Hometown: Lakewood, WA

high school: Clover Park HS

college: University of Pennsylvania

MAJOR: Biomedical Engineering

To Clover Park High School senior Hana Page, the most important purpose in life is to obtain the best education possible and use the education she acquired to help others and improve society. Hana has experienced her fair share of obstacles, but she uses each obstacle as self-development opportunities. She was raised by a single parent mother and is the first in her family to attend college.

Hana is determined to pursue her passion for math, science, problem-solving, and helping others. She has always enjoyed math and science, but her interest in these subjects grew as she took on the most challenging courses at her high school, attended the Mathematics Academy at the University of Washington’s College of Engineering during the summer before her junior year, participated in Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) where she conducted various science experiments and competed in numerous contests, and attended the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) at MIT during the summer before her senior year. Through these various opportunities, Hana was able to confirm her interest in pursuing an education in bioengineering and becoming a biomedical researcher and eventually a college professor.

Hana is active in her community. At her high school, she is the president of the National Honor Society and Knowledge Bowl, project leader of MESA, co-captain of the varsity golf team, and peer tutor. In addition to being active at her high school, Hana has been taking college classes at Pierce College since the beginning of her junior year because she has exhausted the challenging classes offered at her high school. At Pierce College, Hana serves as a tutor for college students, a member of Phi Theta Kappa –a national honor society for two-year colleges-, and the Lead Student Ambassador. Hana also enjoys tutoring and mentoring her community’s students and encouraging them to achieve their dreams. Specifically, many students in Hana’s community are students from minority and low-income backgrounds and typically do not have family members who have attended college. Therefore, Hana is even more determined to encourage these students to do their best in school, pursue their dreams, and attend college.

Hana has been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania and plans to pursue a degree in bioengineering. At UPenn, Hana plans to explore her passion for learning and cancer-related research. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Hana plans to pursue an M.D. and Ph.D. through the national Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) so that she can continue to conduct biomedical research while teaching college students. Most importantly, Hana plans to continue to encourage and support minority and low-income students from under-represented communities to pursue their dreams and attend college. Ultimately, Hana hopes to use her education and strengths to help empower others in unfortunate circumstances so that they too can achieve their dreams, improve society, inspire future generations, and continue this cycle of constant inspiration and achievement.

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Esther Owolabi

Esther Owolabi

Hometown: Westchester, IL

high school: Fenwick HS

college: Georgetown University

MAJOR: Political Science

Esther Owolabi is a senior at Georgetown University studying Government with minors in Education, Inquiry, and Justice and African American Studies. As the daughter of a teacher in Chicago’s inner-city, Esther witnessed the complex issues in the public education system firsthand. Thus, she has developed a deep passion for education equity and access through policy reform.

On campus, Esther actively pursues opportunities that allow her to delve into her interests in social policy, diversity and education. She currently sits on the Provost’s Committee, where she engages with Georgetown administrators and staff to expand diversity offerings on campus, particularly through the academic curriculum. Since freshman year, she has chaired the NAACP’s Education Committee and serves as a coordinator for DC Reads, a tutoring and mentoring program for students in under-served communities. Through DC Reads, Esther also explores the intersection between education, equity, and politics as a member of the Advocacy Committee. She is also convener for the Patrick Healy Fellowship, a selective community of undergraduate leaders who share a passion for serving marginalized communities and explore social impact professional opportunities through alumni mentorship.

Recognizing the fact that learning does not only occur in school, Esther constantly seeks opportunities to cultivate her passions beyond Georgetown’s front gates. She currently works on Higher Education accounts as an intern at Powell Tate | Weber Shandwick, a strategic communications and public affairs firm. Esther has previously interned for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education and studied at the University of Michigan as a Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Fellow, allowing her to develop her analytic skills while exploring her policy interests. Esther is also a proud Georgetown Scholarship Program member, Ron Brown Scholar, and Coca-Cola Scholar.

When she is not multi-tasking, you can find Esther laughing with friends or listening to new music.

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Class of 2011

Brianna Sullivan

Hometown: Riverdale, IL

high school: Thornton Township HS

college: University of Michigan

MAJOR: Nursing

The Ambitious Girl

While still in her mother’s womb, it was prophesized that Brianna Sullivan would be a blessed and gifted child. Growing up, she has been nothing less than that. She has always had a smile that could light up any room and eyes that show much triumph. With Brianna’s mother having a mental illness and father never being around, she has never had a relationship with either of her parents. This might have hindered many, but she uses her situation to her advantage.

Left to grow in the care of her loving and supportive grandmother in the near south suburbs of Chicago since 2005, Brianna has found inspiration to try her best at everything that she does. Her grandmother, Ms. Deborah Berry, provides boundless love, daily motivation, and consistent support for her. She encouraged Brianna and taught her that she had the ability to accomplish anything that she set her heart and mind on. The child listened and tried hard to be successful, only to discover that what she had been told was true. The only limits we have are those we place on ourselves. Brianna sees her grandmother as living proof that no matter the hardships that life presents, one can still be successful through faith.

Brianna’s friends have dubbed her the “Energizer Bunny” because she has an inability to remain idle. She has been in constant motion as an active member of athletic teams, clubs, and community service groups. She has played hard in varsity softball and volleyball. She has learned to speak with confidence as a member of the Speech Team. She has earned her pharmacy technician certificate in the Pre-Pharmacy Club. She has tested her political skills as a member of the Senior Senate. And she has learned about integrity and community service as a member of the National Honor Society. Even with this frenetic pace, Brianna has maintained a 4.6 weighted GPA and earned the position of valedictorian of her senior class.

If asked what which of her accomplishments she is most proud of, Brianna would not relate any stories of academic or athletic achievements. Instead, Brianna would say that she is most proud of simply beating the odds. All around her, are students who have similar stories. Like her, they were raised in poverty with a lack of parental involvement in their lives. Many have or will submit to those difficulties and choose to surrender rather than fight. But Brianna is a conqueror and is determined to prosper. Her constant victory has motivated her peers to also exceed the expectations of others.

Intelligence alone does not make a person extraordinary; along with brains, a person must have great reserves of strength, determination, and ambition. Brianna’s gift is that she knows that this combination holds the key to success in her personal and professional lives. Through struggle, she has found the entry to a better life and now, she is on her way to unlock it.

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Class of 2011

Michael Robinson

Hometown: Silver Spring, MD

high school: Springbrook HS

college: Yale University

MAJOR: Political Science

Sweat and studies. These have been the defining factors in Mike Robinson’s life. Brought up by his grandmother and mother in a small townhouse in Virginia, he learned the values of hard work early on. Born to an uninvolved Jamaican father and a Trinidadian-American mother, he understood that for people like him, success was determined by hard work. As a child, Michael never saw much of his mother as she was usually working, supporting him and his siblings. This left his grandmother as his caretaker. After school she would always make sure he did his homework before any other recreational activities. Michael was taught to “work now, play later.” This life lesson would stick with him and motivate him for years to come.

When Michael was in the sixth grade, his mother entered a long period of unemployment forcing his family into financial instability. After having to sell their home, he and his family transitioned from the houses of family friends to a hotel and ultimately to a homeless shelter. This was a truly humbling and eye opening experience. On his bus ride to school, Michael would see his schoolmates leave their seemingly perfect houses to get on the bus whereas he knew he had just left a shelter. To try to avoid feelings of humiliation he would ask to be dropped off a block from the shelter on the evening bus ride. This experience made Michael hungry for success.He realized that he had to make it in life so that neither he nor his family would ever be in that situation again. He realized even more that it started with school and hard work. He went about taking advantage of every opportunity allotted him and focusing much more on his academics.

As a senior in high school, Michael has done just that. He now lives in Maryland with his mother and grandmother. His attitude towards success and hard work has not changed. Outside the classroom Michael is a real competitor. He is the president of his school’s student government, which this year had the most successful blood drive in recent history, a trombonist in his school’s award-winning music program which most recently boasts an award from the Grammy Foundation, a two-way starter on his varsity football team (earning him All-League honors in Montgomery County), a member of the National Honor Society, and a regional runner-up and state-ranked wrestler. In the classroom, Michael is just as competitive towards his studies. He is a Maryland Distinguished Scholar, an AP Scholar having scored the highest grade 5 on multiple exams, has a 4.0 GPA and has a 4.67 weighted GPA from all his honors and advanced placement courses. In light of all of this, Michael understands that he has not even scratched the surface of what can be accomplished with a thinking mind and determination.

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