Thuy Hang Tran, who graduated from Cross Keys High School, is originally from a small Vietnamese village and moved to metro Atlanta when she was in third grade. Tran said when she enrolled in school she barely spoke English.
“I came from the countryside and we would farm rice,” Tran said. “I didn’t even know what a lead pencil was and I had never even seen notebook paper.”
She is one of 14 Gate Scholars this year from DeKalb County.
Each year the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives 1,000 good-through-graduation scholarships to students to use at the college of their choice, and this year 14 DeKalb County students received it.
The goal of the Gates Millennium Scholarship is to promote academic excellence and an opportunity for outstanding minority students with significant financial needs to reach their potential.
Tran said her difficulty with English and being in a new place only served as motivation and by the end of fifth grade she was moved out of the English as a Second Language (ESL) class. Later that year she was chosen as one of five students with outstanding academics in DeKalb County.
Referring to the outstanding academics recognition ceremony Tran said, “That was my happiest day ever. I remember my mom worked every day and that was the only day she ever took off work. Coming to America wasn’t what I expected—I thought the American dream was going to be handed to me—but I learned as I grew up that I had to work really hard.”
This year, Tran had the highest SAT score at Cross Keys. She will be attending The University of the South in the fall. She plans to study international relations because one of her interests is improving poverty in Third World countries.
“Any time in your life if there are obstacles, take that as an opportunity to succeed. See it as something to overcome and benefit you in the future,” Tran said.
In the fall, McNair High School graduate Stanley Stewart, another scholarship winner, will be attending Brown University and double majoring in international relations and public policy.
Stewart said he thinks he was selected for the scholarship because the Gates Foundation is looking for more than just students with good grades. Stewart is a teen staff member at VOX Teen Communications, a nonprofit organization that produces a newspaper for teens, created by teens, which is published five times a year and has a readership of approximately 90,000.
“I think the Gates Foundation looks for students who are leaders and show a lot of potential,” Stewart said.
Born and raised in East Atlanta, Stewart also volunteers with JUSTGeorgia, a program that works with children in foster care or those who have been detained in juvenile detention facilities.
“Don’t try and replicate what you’ve seen someone else do—everybody is different and that’s what they look for; that’s what is going to set you apart from everybody else,” Stewart said.
Dunwoody High School graduate Bryce Rowan echoed Stewart and said he thinks what set him apart from the thousands of other scholarship applicants is the amount of time he spends giving back to the community.
Rowan writes poetry in his spare time and tutors other students in the community. He will be attending Johns Hopkins University in the fall to study biology or public health, and then hopes to attend medical school.
“Make sure you know who you are and make sure you get that out there. It’s important for you to be true to yourself and you know what your passions are,” Rowan said.
Redan High School graduates Brian Motley and Tshim Tshimanga both like playing basketball and video games in their spare time. Motley thinks he was chosen to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship because he makes good grades, performs a lot of service work and is active in his school’s JROTC program.
Motley will attend Michigan State University and wants to study psychology and criminal justice because of his interest in law enforcement and his time spent in JROTC. Tshimanga starts at Georgia Tech this summer and hopes to continue following his fascination of physics.
“One thing that I like about physics is that Albert Einstein was a physicist and he came up with a lot of things that went over people’s heads,” Tshimanga said. “I’m not anybody special I; just do the best I can wherever I’m at. My parents were born in Congo but I was born here in the U.S. and I’m from DeKalb County.”
The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, established in 1999, was initially funded by a $1 billion grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The scholarship has funded more than 16,000 Gates Millennium Scholars since its inception.
Other 2012 Gates Millennium Scholars from DeKalb County are Destiny Andrews, Sydney Caldwell and Nicole Hardy from DeKalb School of the Arts; Anastasia Carter and Joe Lindsey from Arabia Mountain High School; Jasmine Davis and Henderson Johnson from Chamblee High School; and Maya Williams from Southwest DeKalb High School.