Feature stories

Albert Shanker Scholarship Fund Awards Reception and Ceremony


Realizing college dreams is just the beginning for 171 sharing $1 million to further education

Miller Photography

Second-time Shanker Scholarship winners, this time for graduate school, include (with plaques, from left) Arwa Gabr of Brooklyn College, Yan Davydov of Baruch College, Vivian Yaci Yu of Syracuse University, Opal O’Neil of Hartwick College and Kinga Szilagyi of St. John’s University. They are are joined by (back row, from left) Mulgrew; Lorna Baptiste, a UFT Welfare Fund assistant director; and Arthur Pepper, the executive director of the Welfare Fund.

Miller Photography Brooklyn’s PS 161 steel band, under the guidance of teacher Michelle Williams and program director Mathew Best, perform at the ceremony.

Fatoumata Keita, a graduate of the HS of Economics and Finance and a 2012 UFT Albert Shanker Scholarship Award winner, said that she will become the first person in her family to go away to college when she heads to Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., in September.

“School absolutely changed me,” explained Keita, who came to New York City with her family six years ago from West Africa. “Not just academically” — she maintained a 98-plus average — “but in teaching me how to stand up and fight for myself.”

Keita said she had a hard time convincing her parents to let her leave home for college.

“My parents said, ‘No! No! No!’ but I kept talking to them until I was able to break through without rebellion,” she said. “And when we visited the Pennsylvania campus, I saw my dad’s face break into a smile.”

Keita is one of this year’s 171 winners of the $1 million in scholarships that the UFT gives annually to college-bound students from low-income families who show academic promise.

Her story and those of so many of the winners honored at the 43rd annual award ceremony and reception in Shanker Hall on June 7 speak to the determination, dedication and grit that they invested in their high school years.

Hue Tran, who arrived at DeWitt Clinton HS only two years ago unable to speak English, said he had to work very hard to maintain a 98-plus average because he was so far behind.

“So I stayed in the house and studied,” Tran explained. Now he’s headed to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Munya Talukder, another DeWitt Clinton HS graduate, described carrying a dictionary wherever she went because she didn’t speak a word of English when she arrived in New York City from Bangladesh eight years ago.

Like Keita, she had a hard time convincing her parents to let her go away to school. “Even though I have never been away from home, it was a decision I had to make,” she said.

She said that she will begin pre-med studies at Connecticut College and “hang a picture of my family on the wall.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew paid tribute to the accomplishments of the scholarship winners who filed into the ceremony to “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”

“Keep on being amazing,” he said. “What you’ve done already is the key to your future, and don’t forget the person inside you who made you successful.”

Mulgrew asked the winners to applaud their friends, families, teachers and counselors at the ceremony for “caring, encouraging and being part of this journey.”

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the event’s keynote speaker, said he was disappointed that no banks of media cameras were on hand to publicize the outstanding accomplishments of students and teachers in the New York City school system.

“You epitomize what is great about this city,” he said. “And you will be able to reach down for that extra something and it will be there because you are New Yorkers.”

Shanker Scholarship Director Anthony Harmon presided at the highlight of the evening when he called each of the award winners to the stage for the presentation of awards. The group included six winners of graduate study scholarships who had previously won undergraduate scholarships.

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