Dundalk High School seniors have a million, and then some, reasons to celebrate graduation this year.
On top of academic and scholarly achievements, the class of 2011 raked in more than $1.2 million in scholarships toward post-high school study.
Amongst family, friends, faculty and staff, the Dundalk seniors were all smiles Wednesday night at their annual awards banquet at Martin's East, taking turns walking to the podium, posing for cameras, and laughing with their friends. More than 300 seniors and guests attended the event, and the venue was packed.
This was the first time the event was featured at Martin's East, due to the sponsorship from the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant. The State of Maryland is currently in the fourth year of a GEAR UP grant. The grant provides early intervention services for low-income students to prepare them to enter and to succeed in postsecondary education.
The Maryland GEAR UP Program is a federal grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education and administered by MSDE in partnership with the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC). Currently, GEAR UP services are provided to approximately 2,000 students in nine high schools throughout Maryland.
This was the first graduating class from Dundalk High for the GEAR UP Program, so extra funding was provided for an end-of-the-year celebration.
Deborah Wallace, the GEAR UP Coordinator for Dundalk, approached the podium to cheers and applause. She smiled, took a breath, and fought back tears of joy for the students she's worked with over the last four years.
Wallace then announced that over the four years, the GEAR UP Program has utilized a grand total of $83, 135 for students at Dundalk. For students going to a two-year college, scholarships totaled $1,168,336. When adding students attending a four-year college, the number jumped to $1,257,471. At the sound of these announcements, the crowd roared in applause.
Principal Tom Shouldice announced that between the 2009-2010 and the 2010-2011 school year, the amount of students attending a two or four-year college rose from 51 percent in 2009-2010 to a whopping 70 percent in the current 2010-2011 school year.
Approximately 8 percent of the graduating seniors would be attending trade schools and another 8 percent would be enlisting in the military.
Earning the largest scholarship of the night was Towson University-bound Sadia Ahmed, who received $6,200 from the Dundalk High Class of 1962, a scholarship organized by alumni. Following in suit, and earning $2,500 scholarships from the Dundalk High Class of 1963 were Mercedes Grudinsky, attending Charleston Southern University, and Hailun Zhao, attending University of California-Davis.
In special recognition, Zhao and Valerie Ochoa, attending CCBC in the fall, were awarded Perfect Attendance Awards for their four years without a single absence. Both students were commended on their commitment and dedication to education.
Finally, the Optimist Club Boy and Girl of the Year awards for 2011 were given to Chelsea Nicole Wageley, who will be attending Stevenson University, and Thomas Wood, who will be attending Southeastern University.
The entire night was closed with the audience singing the Dundalk High Alma Mater:
Dundalk High School Alma Mater
Let each fellow join our chorus,
Echo far and near.
We will ever sing in triumph,
And we'll always cheer.
March on Dundalk, March right
Till we reach our post.
And a cheer from each good fellow,
Means we have not lost.
To our own dead Dundalk High School,
We do dedicate,
All our hearts and hands and voices
Till we separate.