On May 19, 2008, CDF honored five Washington, D.C.-area upcoming high school seniors who have overcome tremendous adversity to demonstrate academic excellence and give back to their communities during the 2008 Beat the Odds
Awards Luncheon. Actress and comedienne Ali Wentworth and ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos hosted the event.
2008 Beat the Odds Scholarship Recipients
Select Photos from the Beat the Odds Awards Luncheon
Michael A. Dejene
Yorktown High School, Arlington, Virginia
When Michael was five years old, his family was pulled apart. While living in Ethiopia, his older sister was sent to the United States for treatment of severe asthma not offered in their country, and their father left for the U.S. on a college scholarship. Michael’s mother was left to raise Michael and his three siblings in Ethiopia with the hope of one day reuniting the family. In 2005, his family was able to move to America only to discover Michael’s father was hospitalized and receiving medical treatment for brain cancer. Six months after arriving in America, Michael’s father passed away. The months that followed his father’s passing were some of the darkest of Michael’s life, and he could not see a future for himself while his family struggled to adjust to American culture. But Michael quickly recovered and assumed responsibility for taking care of his family, at a time when his mother was trying to transition out of federal assistance while facing the overwhelming burden of taking care of her four children.
Through all of it, Michael's light at the end of the tunnel has been a steadfast love of education—not just for his own interests, but also as a way of fulfilling his father's dreams for his family. Michael is not only an outstanding student, but has become an active member in the Ethiopian community in D.C., hoping to educate and share with others the diversity and richness of the international community. To Michael, beating the odds means embracing higher education as a dream for himself, his father, his family and his community.
Rose Stefany Quispe
Bell Multicultural High School, Washington, D.C.
Following the separation of her parents, Rose and her sisters were brought to the United States by their father. Rose believed the promise of the "American Dream" would help her deal with the yearning she had for her mother and friends still back in Peru. However, Rose was shocked to encounter racial slurs and stereotypes aimed at her and her family because of their inability to speak English. She felt alienated in every environment, especially in her school, and lost all confidence in herself, her culture and her family.
Once Rose transferred to Bell Multicultural High School, she began to flourish and found hope in the acceptance of her peers and teachers. Although just three years ago Rose could not speak English, she is now excelling in advanced courses like AP English and AP U.S. History. She also has been accepted to an early college summer program at the University of Princeton School of Journalism. Through her writing, Rose has found a way to express the beauty of all of her cultures. She hopes she can influence others who may feel alienated to believe that even through adversity, it is possible to achieve your dreams.
Westfield High School, Chantilly, Virginia
Jin is a survivor. As a child, she was forced to watch helplessly as her mother endured physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her own father. At the age of 14, Jin managed to find a temporary escape from her volatile home environment when she was chosen as a finalist in "Superstar Survival," a Korean television program similar in format to our own "American Idol," but featuring a wide array of talents including singing, dancing and performing. Through hard work and determination, Jin made it to the final five, only to learn that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She made the painful decision to drop out of "Superstar Survival" so she could return to America where her father and brother had left her mother to struggle with her disease in solitude.
Jin willingly sacrificed her teenage years in order to care for and support her mother by working multiple jobs, but a strong interest in the creative arts, coupled with an unshakable faith and an active role in her local church, have sustained her. Jin hopes to use the lessons she has learned throughout her life to write her own story and inspire other youth to persevere through difficult conditions. And she is certain that it will end with "...and they lived happily ever after."
Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Keagoé grew up in a community that programmed him to believe college was an unattainable dream and high school graduation almost as impossible. There were no community models besides those of violence and arrest. Instead of allowing these community norms and an inadequate educational system to defeat him, Keagoé spends hours daily commuting to a better school across town and participates in after-school programs to further his education.
In addition to his rigorous academic schedule, Keagoé, alongside his twin brother, played an integral role in the "Know Your Rights" campaign to educate youth and adults in his community about their rights as citizens. Keagoé’s artistic abilities enabled him to create a magazine for the campaign. He has become an active member in his neighborhood community coalitions and meetings. Keagoé has fully embraced art, which has allowed him to communicate hope instead of the negativity of his surroundings, and he has taught an art class at a community-based summer camp for children. Keagoé hopes to use his education, artwork, and youth leadership training to educate and empower those in his community, emphasizing the value of school and hard work. He wants to show them that their surroundings do not have to dictate who they are or who they can become.
Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Kristopher believes that, although everyone faces challenges, the manner in which one faces those challenges is what makes him who he is. He lives by this mantra and has chosen to take on the negative realities of his community by becoming active and educating those around him. Instead of following the path of most of his peers into crime and delinquency, Kristopher prides himself on his education, his art, and his work as a staff member at a local youth leadership program. Kristopher and his twin brother played an integral role in the "Know Your Rights" campaign to educate youth and adults in his community about their rights as citizens. Kristopher developed a PSA for the campaign and was featured in the Washington Post
Kristopher is also addressing the challenges his community faces. His low-income neighborhood will be turned into mixed-income housing, which will force Kristopher's family and many others to relocate. Instead of allowing the demolition of his neighborhood to defeat him, Kristopher has decided to face the challenge. He helped form a neighborhood coalition, organized trips to the city council, and held a youth retreat in order to educate those in his neighborhood about the redevelopment and the changes it will bring. Kristopher has learned that even if the odds are stacked against him, he can succeed through dedication and hard work. He hopes to pass this message on to others.
2008 Beat the Odds Sponsors
Special Thanks To:
Ali Wentworth & George Stephanopolous
The St. Regis Hotel
Alexandra Wentworth - Selection Committee Chair
Dr. Leslie Fenwick