Larsharae Hooker and the late businessman and philanthropist Martin “Marty” Stein share the same alma mater: Washington High School. Hooker graduates on June 6; Stein graduated in 1956. Despite being separated by decades, Stein’s endowment to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee connects them through the Stein Scholars pre-college program.
Stein, who died in 2006, strongly believed in education as a means to build better futures and greater opportunities. The program carries his legacy by making higher education attainable for young people in need from southeast Wisconsin. Students apply after completing their sophomore year of high school.
Hooker is one of 33 Stein Scholars graduating from high school this year. All will attend college this fall, 27 in Wisconsin.
A first-generation college student, Hooker said, “I needed somebody who’d actually been through the process to help me.”
The program’s workshops teach participating high school juniors and seniors skills that will help them with school, careers and life. Hooker credits the program with helping her increase her ACT score and secure funding to attend Clark Atlanta University, where she plans to study accounting.
Without the program, “I’d take on more loans,” she said.
African drumming accompanied a special recognition ceremony held Sunday at Marquette University’s Alumni Memorial Union.
“This year is special because we are able to use the plural,” said Alfred Parchia, director of program development-Graduation Plus. Graduation Plus is a collection of pre-college programs run by Boys & Girls Clubs. The attendees celebrated both the graduating high school seniors and the program’s first class of college graduates. This year 111 Stein Scholars were enrolled in either a two-year or four-year college degree program.
High school graduating class speakers September Winzer and Kenneth Myatt credited program staff with their success.
“This is also a family for me,” said Winzer, a Rufus King High School graduate. “I feel I can take on any challenge and I’m more than ready to take on my first year of college and beyond.” In fact, the program provides support – financial, emotional and logistical – through college.
Myatt, a Messmer High School graduate, recalled the “nonstop emails, calls and voicemails” from staff members to combat his “skills of procrastination.” In the end, he said, “Those were what I really needed to give me the push.” Because of their persistence, he will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to study graphic design.
A Kente celebration, which has West African origins, recognized the role others played in the graduates’ success. One by one, each student stood in front facing a chosen parent, friend or role model. Program staff read what the student had written in thanks for support from that person or persons. The role models then welcomed the graduates into adulthood by placing a kente stole around their necks.
In addition to this emotional recognition, Stein’s sons, Dan and Larry, shared anecdotes from their father’s life, revealing his belief that education is key to improving lives. The students received starfish key chains as a reminder of Stein’s favorite inspirational story, which teaches that each person can make a positive impact on another’s life.
Gabrielle Gray was one of two graduating college students in attendance, representing the first class of Stein Scholars.
In addition to helping her graduate from Rufus King High School and obtain a degree in political science from Marquette University, she said, “Stein Scholars really helped me to grow up a bit and to realize what I wanted in life.”
Gray still applies the program’s goal-setting tools to her life, and she’s ambitious. Her one-year plan is to attend graduate school for public administration and, next summer, buy a foreclosed home in Milwaukee and fix it up. In the next five years, she hopes to work on educational policy in Washington, DC. In the next 10 years, Gray plans to have a family and obtain her PhD.
Stein Scholars has been with her all along, Gray said, supporting her when she was stressed; helping her decide on a major; encouraging her to study abroad in Ghana, Madrid and Washington, DC.
“They were always there, and they’ll always be there,” she said, adding that she plans to follow the advice of program staff to do “whatever’s right in your heart.”