STMHS Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Winners

STMHS Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Winners
Posted on 11/19/2014
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Publication: The Day

Groton - Selena James could barely hold back tears Thursday as she spoke with pride of her daughter Lillian being selected as one of six recipients of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship.

She recalled telling her daughter about the scholarship in elementary school.

"I'm like, you're going to get this scholarship one day," said James, seated at a table near the podium in the ballroom of the Mystic Marriott hotel.

James wasn't alone among parents in her emotions for her child's accomplishment. The 33rd annual dinner for recipients of the scholarship was as much about the roles of scholars' families as it was about the achievements of the scholars themselves.

Scholarship recipient Prince Omotosho, a classmate of Lillian at New London Science and Technology Magnet High School, where the two are in their senior year, centered much of his speech on the role his family played in his achievements as a student and community member. Both Omotosho and James plan careers in medicine.

Omotosho told a packed audience about how, when his family's home burned down, "That did not stop me. That did not stop us."

"This is just the beginning of what your work will show," Omotosho said in closing to his parents, who he mentioned had immigrated from Haiti and Africa.

Following King's death in 1968, former New London teacher and mayor Eunice McLean Waller and her husband, William DeHomer Waller, donated $100 to establish the scholarship to award a student who best represented King's ideals.

The scholarship now gives $20,000 to each recipient chosen based on academic performance and community involvement, and who demonstrates financial need. As of Thursday, 128 New London County high school seniors have been granted the award.

Toward the back of the auditorium sat eighth-graders selected by their teachers and school principals based on factors including academic performance to attend the event.

Cierra Jimenez, 13, was among two eighth-graders from the Dual Language and Arts Magnet School chosen to attend the event. Jimenez said she had never heard about the scholarship until she was invited to attend Thursday's event - but her father, Andre Singleton, remembered the scholarship from when he attended New London High School.

"You got to work for it. It's not something that's just given," Singleton said of the award.

He said he was proud of his daughter for being invited to the event, commenting that Jimenez is more focused in school than he was growing up. He called the invitation a "confidence booster" and said it helped to set a good example for the middle school students who sit and watch high school seniors speak about their future goals.

"It just helps us out as parents," said Singleton.

Many King scholars are made aware of the award by attending the annual dinner as eighth-graders. Some scholars took a moment in their speeches to counsel the young audience members.

"You need to set high goals," said New London Science and Technology Magnet High School senior Craig Parker, who plans to study linguistics and sports medicine in college.

When Lillian James gave her speech toward the end of the evening, her voice cracked as she addressed her parents.

"You have always been with us and for us," she said, crying as her mother had just an hour or so earlier, adding, "I hope I continue to make you proud."

Other award recipients Thursday included Marine Science Magnet High School senior Briana Morgan Kleiner, Marine Science Magnet High School senior Peyton McGill and Fitch High School senior Jamal Davis Neal Jr.

Scholarship sponsors included the Martin Luther King Scholarship Trust Fund, the Kitchings Family Foundation, the Grube Family, Comcast, Sonalysts, Pfizer, Dominion, and Donetta and Morris Hodge.

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