The game changers: College Prep scholars graduate, head to college

Program for talented, low-income students graduates its second cohort; 11 scholars to attend Washington University

Cohort 2 of the College Prep Program gathered for a graduation ceremony April 22 in Emerson Auditorium. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Delton Utsey joined the College Prep Program at Washington University in St. Louis to meet other smart kids in high school, learn to write a killer college essay and study with top professors.

College Prep scholar Delton Utsey speaks with John Sondag, president of AT&T Missouri. AT&T Aspire has contributed more than $670,000 to the program. Utsey will attend Washington University in the fall. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

He accomplished those goals and one more: to gain admission to Washington University.

“After three years of learning things like African dances, ACT skills and tactics, and the creation and fall of Motown, I became very fond of WashU. As a result, I’m now a member of the Class of 2022 at Washington University in St. Louis,” Utsey told the audience at the College Prep graduation ceremony for Cohort 2. “But no matter where we end up after high school, I’m absolutely certain we will all make positive changes in the world. We are all remarkable people. And game changers.”

The College Prep Program is an innovative initiative that prepares talented, low-income high school students from the St. Louis region to become the first in their families to go to  college. For three summers, the 34 members of Cohort 2 lived and learned at Washington University, taking courses for college credit and learning about the college application process.

On April 22, they reunited in Emerson Auditorium on the Danforth Campus to share memories, receive their College Prep graduation cords from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, himself a first-generation college student, and be inspired by keynote speaker Lori S. White, vice chancellor for student affairs.

“Your story — who you are and what you will give to the world through your leadership, your cultural framework, your activism, your passion for social justice, your lived experiences, your particular identity and so many aspects of what makes you special and unique — is so very important to moving this world forward,” White said.

Wrighton added, “We are so proud of what you have achieved and are excited to watch you continue to grow as individuals and as scholars. We know that each of you has what it takes to be successful.”

John Sondag, president of AT&T Missouri, also congratulated the students, remarking that their success will ripple beyond their homes and schools to improve the entire region. AT&T Aspire, the company’s education initiative, has contributed more than $670,000 to support the program and to provide graduates a technology stipend to purchase computers for college. 

“When our local students succeed, the greater St. Louis community benefits, and we believe this holds true in every community throughout this country,” Sondag said. “Every student deserves the opportunity to reach his or her full potential and by working together to remove barriers, spark innovative solutions and to make connections, we can help every student achieve a bright and successful future.”

Scholar Antoinette Tipton received her College Prep graduation cord from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and College Prep founder Leah Merrifield, associate vice chancellor for community engagement and St. Louis college readiness. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Additional supporters of the College Prep Program this year included the Centene Charitable Foundation and the Mysun Charitable Foundation, as well as individual donors.

Every member of Cohort 2 has been admitted to college including 11 students who have been accepted to Washington University.  All 11 will be attending Washington University through the College Prep Scholarship.

But College Prep founder Leah Merrifield, associate vice chancellor for community engagement and St. Louis college readiness, stressed that the program’s primary goal is not to boost university enrollment, but to help students find the school that best suits their personalities and priorities.

For student speaker Antoinette Tipton, a senior at Maplewood Richmond Heights High School, that school is Fontbonne University, where she plans to study biology. Tipton has moved schools every year since fifth grade and started high school alone and lost.

“But there are two things I always had — determination and a dream,” said Tipton, who ultimately wants to study medicine and become an OB-GYN. “Before this program, I had no confidence whatsoever. But here I am giving this speech, so that speaks for itself. I am bold. I am strong. And though it took me four years to realize it, I am worthy.”

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