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Of the 24,000 students in the United States and its territories who applied for the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship, only 1,000 were named recipients. And three of those recipients are recent graduates of Newton County School System Class of 2012. Alcovy High School valedictorian Robert Hight and Newton High School graduates Nancy Ejike and Laporsche Thomas have been awarded the Class of 2012 Gates Millennium Scholars good-through-graduation scholarships which can be used to pursue degrees in any undergraduate major at the accredited college or university of their choice.

The Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was established in 1999 to provide outstanding low income African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American, and Hispanic American students with an opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline they choose. Continuing Gates Scholars may request funding for a graduate degree program in one of the following discipline areas: computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science. The goal of GMS is to promote academic excellence by providing thousands of outstanding students, who have significant financial need, the opportunity to reach their full potential.

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program also provides recipients with leadership development opportunities, mentoring, academic and social support. The Program is known for its recipients’ high graduation rates—a six-year rate of 90 percent (45 percent higher than the national graduation rates for all students) and comparable to the rates for students from high-income families.

In addition to receiving the Gates Millennium Scholarship, Robert Hight is also the Alcovy High School Class of 2012’s valedictorian. He has been accepted to Oxford College at Emory where he plans on majoring in biology and pursue Pre-Med.

“I’ve liked biology since I was young,” said Hight. “I watched all the science programs growing up. I’m very interested in health care. I am very interested in health care and would like to be a neurologist because I’m very interested in the spinal cord and the nervous system.

During his high school career, High maintained a very busy schedule as he was involved in the Anchor Club (community service organization), Drama Club, Junior Classical League, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Rosetta Society (history club). In addition, in his senior year alone he took six Advanced Placement Classes.

“I was really surprised when I got the letter telling me I was a Gates Millennium Scholar,” said Hight. “It was pretty exciting that I was one of only 1,000 who got it and there were 24,000 who applied.”

“Robert Hight is a very academically talented student,” said Alcovy High School Principal Dr. LaQuanda Carpenter. “During his high school career he exhibited a tremendous amount of academic focus that has allowed him to be awarded not only the Gates Millennium Scholarship, but several other scholarships as well.”

Carpenter added, “His goal in life is to study medicine and to be a neurosurgeon, and his being awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship is a great way to begin his path of success. It is my belief that Robert will be an outstanding scholar at both Oxford College and Emory University and it is also my belief that Robert will not only reach the goals that he has planned on today, but that he will also set additional goals, and reach those as well. As a high school principal, one tries to encourage students to reach their full potential and to attain accolades beyond their wildest dreams. As a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, I am proud to say that Robert has not only taken advantage of the opportunities that high school can provide, but he has also begun a path of greatness that has made and will continue to make himself, his family, and the Alcovy High School Community proud.”

Even though Nancy Ejike and Laporsche Thomas are best friends, the recent graduates of Newton High School didn’t know each other had applied for the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program until they both received confirmation that they had been selected.

“I was surprised and blessed,” said Nancy. “I have the chance to become somebody completely different—this is a chance to change your entire life and go to a school that you never thought you could.”

“I’m humbled and blessed more than anything,” added Laporsche. “The chance to get this scholarship is only one in 24,000. It just hasn’t hit yet that I actually got it.”

Both girls were actively involved in academics and extracurricular activities at Newton High School.
Nancy participated in band, soccer, Mock Trial, Upward Bound, and was a member of the National Honor Society. That was all in addition to taking four advanced placement classes. Laporsche was also a member of the National Honor Society and Upward Bound and also participated in FBLA and was selected to the school’s homecoming court. She too had a heavy academic load with three advanced placement classes and one advanced class.

While their intended career paths are completely opposite their common goal is the same—to change the world.

Nancy took classes to become a nursing assistant, shadowed an eye doctor, and even volunteers at a nursing home so it was only natural that she would consider majoring in Pathology/Pre-Med at Emory University. She plans on pursuing a minor in sign language.

“I want to be an epidemiologist and go to third world countries and help with certain diseases that show up there,” she said.

While Nancy plans to change the world with medicine, Laporsche’s goal is to reach out to millions like her inspiration—Oprah.

“I want to major in mass communications with a minor in psychology at either UGA or Spellman,” she said. “Someday I want to have my own inspirational talk show so I can help everybody—from 4 to 100. And now that I have the Gates Scholarship, nothing is impossible!”

“Nancy Ejike and LaPorsche Thomas are two fine examples of the high caliber of students we have at Newton High,” said their principal, Dr. Craig Lockhart. “They are both serious students who have focused on high personal standards for success. These young ladies are able to compete at a global level, and they will enter into the world both college and career ready. I extend hearty congratulations to both Nancy and LaPorsche for this rare, outstanding accomplishment. GO RAMS!”

“This is an extraordinary achievement on the part of Robert, Nancy, and Laporsche,” said Newton County School Superintendent Gary Mathews. “To be among just a thousand students in the United States to receive a Gates Millennium Scholarship is truly outstanding in every way. It just goes to show that hard work and perseverance matters in school and also brings real rewards. I suspect we’ll read again about these young people down the road. Congratulations, indeed!”

For more information, contact Ms. Sherri Davis-Viniard, Director of Public Relations for Newton County Schools at 770-784-2908.

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