Akayla Brown is not your average 18-year-old. She is a senior at Bodine High School in Philadelphia, a founder of a nonprofit organization, and a recipient of the prestigious Gates Scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Gates Scholarship is a highly selective, full scholarship for exceptional, Pell-eligible, minority, high school seniors. It covers the full cost of attendance that is not already covered by other financial aid and the expected family contribution, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Out of 34,000 applicants nationwide, only 300 were chosen as Gates Scholars this year. Akayla Brown was one of them.
“I was ecstatic. I was overjoyed. I was speechless,” Brown said in an interview with NBC Philadelphia. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Brown has been accepted to 18 colleges, including Howard University, Temple University, Drexel University, and Penn State University. She plans to major in international business and hopes to become a global entrepreneur.
“I want to be an example to my peers and to the next generation and show them that you can make anything you want become possible,” Brown said.
Brown’s passion for helping others started at a young age. When she was 13, she founded Dimplez 4 Dayz, a nonprofit organization that aims to keep smiles on the faces and in the hearts and minds of her community members.
Dimplez 4 Dayz organizes various programs and events for the community, such as back-to-school backpack giveaways, turkey drives, CPR certification courses, and a Courtyard En Blanc for homeless people.
“All of our programs are led by youth. People my age,” Brown said. “We want to show them that we care about them and we’re here for them.”
Brown’s achievements are even more remarkable considering the challenges she faced growing up in Southwest Philadelphia, where she witnessed violence, poverty, and drug abuse.
“I’ve seen a lot of things that no child should see,” Brown said. “But I didn’t let that stop me. I didn’t let that define me. I used that as motivation to keep going and to do better.”
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Brown credits her mother, who raised her as a single parent, for being her biggest inspiration and supporter.
“My mom is my everything. She’s my rock. She’s my backbone. She’s my motivation,” Brown said. “She always pushed me to do my best and to never give up on my dreams.”
Brown also expressed her gratitude to the Gates Foundation for giving her the opportunity to pursue higher education without worrying about the financial burden.
“I’m so thankful to the Gates Foundation for believing in me and investing in me,” Brown said. “They’re not just giving me money. They’re giving me a network, a mentorship, a support system. They’re giving me a family.”
Brown’s story is an example of how hard work, determination, and generosity can overcome any obstacle and make a positive impact on the world.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 10% of low-income students earn a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 58% of high-income students.
The Gates Scholarship aims to increase the number of low-income students who complete college and reduce the barriers they face along the way.
Since its inception in 2017, the Gates Scholarship has awarded more than 1,200 scholarships to outstanding students from diverse backgrounds.
Jasmine Mazard-Larry is a remarkable young woman who has overcome many challenges in her life to achieve academic excellence. She is the valedictorian of her high school class, graduating with an 8.07 GPA, one of the highest in the nation. She also earned an associate’s degree from a local community college while still in high school. She has a bright future ahead of her, as she plans to pursue a career in medicine.
But Jasmine’s journey was not easy. She was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was six years old. She has ADHD and hearing loss, which she initially saw as weaknesses, but later learned to embrace as strengths. She said, “They’re not setbacks. They allowed me to be who I am today.”
Four years ago, when she was about to start high school, her family lost their home in a fire. Her mother was nine months pregnant with her brother at the time, and her father was severely injured from the fire. They became homeless for two years, living in hotels and shelters. Jasmine said, “It was really hard because I didn’t have a stable place to do my homework or study.”
Despite these hardships, Jasmine did not give up on her education. She enrolled in Advanced Placement classes and participated in dual enrollment and the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education program, which all helped to boost her GPA. She also joined several clubs and extracurricular activities, such as the National Honor Society, the Student Government Association, and the Science Olympiad. Read more about Jasmine here.