Ryan Afreen, the William Cullen Bryant HS valedictorian for the class of 2019, will start pre-med studies at her “dream school,” the University of Pennsylvania, in the fall. It’s a future she never imagined possible when she arrived with her family from Bangladesh just three years ago.
“I had no clue how expensive higher education would be, and that was our reason for coming here,” said Afreen, the winner of a $5,000 Albert Shanker College Scholarship on the 50th anniversary of the UFT awards.
Isabel Hernandez, Afreen’s AP biology teacher at Bryant in Astoria, Queens, knew she could do it. “I am in awe of her enthusiasm and perseverance,” Hernandez said, “and could see the talent in her right away.”
With the scholarship and “the help and caring of wonderful teachers,” Afreen is realizing her dream.
The UFT presented scholarships to 180 seniors from public high schools throughout the city and to eight graduate students on May 14 at a reception and ceremony in Shanker Hall at union headquarters in Manhattan. Each year, the union gives $1 million in scholarships to deserving students. The Latin band from Celia Cruz Bronx HS of Music, with director Wilson Portuondo on trumpet, entertained.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew called on the winners to stand and cheer for their parents, family members, teachers and school counselors in the audience as he reminded the students, “You didn’t do this alone.”
He challenged them “to soar as high as you can” and reassured them that as “our kids” and part of the scholarship’s 50-year legacy, “It is our pleasure to be here to help you.”
Scholarship fund director Anthony Harmon said the recipients are “some of the best and brightest in our public schools” and “a testament to the dedication and commitment our teachers display every day.”
Scholarship winners Rimsha and Rabia Ansar of New Utrecht HS in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, not only look like twins but have twin interests. Both will attend Brooklyn College and major in biology with the shared goal of practicing internal medicine. They arrived from Pakistan five years ago and were surprised at the diversity of New York. Their father, Ali Ansar, said, “I have raised them to have what I didn’t have.”
State Attorney General Letitia James, the guest speaker, noted the preponderance of young women in the winners’ circle this year. She challenged the students to be activists and to stand up for democracy in the way young people did during the Vietnam War, the Tiananmen Square uprising in China and the civil rights movement.
“The stars are brightest when there is darkness,” she said. “And you are the stars. So be active, vote, push for a better world.”
Rahmeka Cox, Miss New York 2018, advised the honorees, “Know your value and use your voice to implement change.”
Government and economics teacher Rob Canobbio and history teacher Rosa Chu, who is also a college adviser, attended the ceremony to cheer on their Manhattan Center for Science and Math winners Juleiddy De Leon and Melissa Ramkarran, who are headed to Northeastern University in the fall.
Canobbio said De Leon might want to reconsider her planned nursing major in favor of public advocacy after her stellar performance as the judge in a classroom trial. “Her questioning was very perceptive,” he said.
Shanker Scholarship winners are nominated by school counselors and teachers based on academic achievement and financial need. Since 1969, the program has provided more than $50 million to some 9,000 outstanding high school seniors.