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Five Washington, D.C. High School Seniors, All Attending Elite Universities, Selected as 2015 Milken Scholars

The Scholarship Program is Unique Due to its Lifetime of Mentoring and Resources


July 1, 2015

Santa Monica, CA—The Milken Scholars, a joint initiative of the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation, has selected five exceptional high school seniors as 2015 Milken Scholars. The Scholars were chosen based on academic performance, community service, leadership and their ability to persevere in the face of adversity.

Each Scholar will receive a $10,000 scholarship, but what makes the program unique is the access to a lifetime of resources provided to scholarship recipients. The Washington, D.C. Scholars program is also the beneficiary of support from the Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies.

The new Scholars will deliver inspirational remarks during the Milken Scholars Recognition Dinner to be held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in DC on Saturday, July 11, 2015, followed by a Milken Scholars Summit in Los Angeles.

“These students, despite the challenges they have faced, shine and have great potential for success in college and beyond,” said Gregory Milken, a program director. “The Milken Scholars program will be there for them by providing ongoing mentoring, assistance with internships, opportunities for community service and numerous resources that will help guide them throughout their academic and professional careers.”

Dr. Joelle Simpson, a Milken Scholar from the class of 1995 and the Medical Director of Emergency Preparedness at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., is still active in the program and serves as a valued mentor and resource.

“What stands out among the Washington, D.C. Scholars is a strong awareness of the importance of being active in policies and programs that affect their local communities,” she said. “These Milken Scholars are clearly the leaders to effect change and lead from a position of personal experience about topics such as education gaps, healthcare disparities or environmental issues.”

The 2015 Washington, D.C. Milken Scholars are:

Antonia Alakija - The College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania

Antonia AlakijaAs a high school student, Antonia Alakija has already seen, and experienced, more of the world than many adults. She has volunteered in schools and orphanages in Nigeria, Peru and Cambodia. Her most recent summer was spent in a Spanish language and culture intensive immersion program in Barcelona, Spain. “Toni is a dreamer and a doer, and when she identifies an idea that she wants to pursue, nothing will derail her from it,” says her guidance counselor. As a student at the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., her awards include National Achievement finalist, AP Scholar, and a Commended Student in the 2015 National Merit Scholarship Program. She also has a gold and two silver medals from the National Spanish Exam. Toni was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Discus, captain of the step dance team and president of the African Student Alliance (ASA). She will attend the University of Pennsylvania where she will study business and health policy. She is interested in medical school. She says her family’s heritage – both of her parents are Nigerian – is not simply a physical display of culture. Rather, due to her heritage, she feels an obligation to aid her global community. “Our heritage has been built upon shared values like self-sacrifice and compassion for others.” Her obsession to master the Spanish language stems from her desire to help strengthen health and education policies in areas like Cuzco, Peru, in order to make a large impact on development in the Latin American region. As her Spanish instructor said, “The reason Toni puts so much effort into mastering Spanish is because she loves the language and because she understands that learning a foreign language allows her the opportunity to explore a vast world.”

Anthonya James - UCLA

Anthonya JamesIt would be easy to assume that everything came easy for Anthonya James, the valedictorian of Thurgood Marshall Academy, a top charter school in Washington, D.C. In fact, it’s been the opposite. She has led a difficult life living in homeless shelters for periods of time. “Rarely does an educator come across a student who truly inspires and motivates them; a student who pushes them to work harder, to strive for more, and to not give up in the face of adversity. Anthonya James is undoubtedly one of those students. She epitomizes resilience regardless of the obstacles that come her way. However, you would never know her personal struggles. She comes into school every day with a focused and upbeat attitude,” said her guidance counselor. At Marshall, she was a skillful participant of the Debate Team for four years and took first place in the D.C. Urban Debate League. She was involved in the Student Government Association as student body president, planning and running service projects to assist students in the school and creating a school-wide anti-bullying week. She received college credit for taking Calculus and Intensive Art at Stanford University during its Summer College program. The philosophy that she lives by is to help others. “Involvement in student government has encouraged me to obtain a profession where I help others and teach people how to help. I enjoy advocating for people,” she says. Anthonya has been interviewed by David Gregory, former host of Meet the Press, who noticed her phenomenal qualities at the annual school gala. Anthonya will major in U.S. History at UCLA and hopes to attend law school to become a criminal defense attorney.

Alisha Jennings-Olowosuko - University of Michigan

Alisha Jennings OlowosokoPrior to the seventh grade, the only thing that would motivate Alisha Jennings-Olowosuko to get good grades on her report card was ice cream. Raised mostly by her grandmother, the circumstances in her life were less than ideal but it was one particularly difficult experience that jolted her into realizing she had the ability to empower herself. “I now possessed an intense determination to control the one aspect of my life that I would always have sole authority over: my education. I made the conscious decision to use my circumstances to fuel my ambition to do better, instead of wallowing in them and looking for someone else to blame.” At Benjamin Banneker Senior High School in Washington, D.C., she was the cheerleading captain for four years and was a mentor at Girls, Inc., a nonprofit organization with the goal of instilling self-confidence and ambition in young women. Alisha had an internship at the Federal Trade Commission and was a member of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Institute. “I feel confident in saying that Alisha is poised under pressure, has the ability to manage any situation with professionalism and, without a doubt, can accomplish anything,” says a former manager at the Commission. He added that her positivity became a “beacon of light” and that her “optimistic behavior demonstrated and taught others two and three decades her senior how a professional ought to behave.” She is a member of the National Honor Society, received a silver medal in the National Spanish and Latin Exam, and was a QuestBridge finalist. She will study business at the University of Michigan and hopes to work in the fashion industry.

Julian Nelson - Carnegie Mellon

Julian NelsonScholar, leader and athlete. Since freshman year, Julian Nelson has been ranked #1 at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. where he graduated as valedictorian. He is the first male valedictorian in the last 24 years. A former teacher says, “Every now and then, someone comes along whose unique blend of talent, intellect and personality creates a lasting mark. Mr. Julian Nelson is that student.” One anecdote exemplifies his character and way of being. He had come by to say hello to a former teacher when he noticed how the students in class were fretting over an English paper. Julian didn’t waste any time. Without being asked, he immediately went to work with the students, listening to their ideas and guiding them to the topic assigned. According to his former teacher, “His suggestions were crisp, accommodating, and insightful.” Julian plans to study computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon to one day become a hardware designer. He is a member of the National Honor Society, the National Society of High School Scholars, is an Outstanding Participant in the National Achievement Scholarship Program and has won the Harvard Book Prize. He says being on the football team required his greatest commitment, although he was also the track and field conference champion in shot put for two consecutive years. In addition, he played trombone in the wind ensemble. “A curious learner, Julian is never satisfied with easy answers. He investigates topics of interest in detail. He is thirsty for knowledge. In classes, he sets a tone that is constructive and helps to create a positive learning environment for everyone.”

Alexis Vivar - MIT

Alexis VivarWhen Alexis Vivar’s parents crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S., they set into motion a series of events. “They saw their crossing as a ticket,” said Alexis, “taking a leap of faith in order to provide their children with the future every parent dreams of. Their will and decisions led to a student studying hard with the intention to achieve success in the field of engineering at a top tier university.” Alexis, who attended Benjamin Banneker Senior High School in Washington, D.C., will study mechanical engineering at MIT. Alexis plans to pursue this career because he believes engineering “is a community built by like-minded people who love to create and imagine an abundance of new possibilities for the improvement of society.” He has had several applied research experiences that included MIT, Howard University and the University of Maryland. Alexis also worked in a local elementary school to coach soccer and teach poetry. His awards include a silver medal in the National Latin Exam and membership in the National Honor Society, the National French Honors Society and Mu Alpha Theta. He is the Math Club co-founder and president, and has been the vice president of the InvenTeam (robotics) for two years. In response to Sandy Hook and as a member of the InvenTeam, he was part of a student group that invented a tool to lock interior doors in schools to block intruders. Alexis became interested in social causes and immigration issues while in high school and was a leader in SMART, which helps ESL students and immigrants learn about resources that give access to educational and community opportunities.

Since its founding in 1989 by Lori and Michael Milken, the Milken Scholars program has supported more than 350 Scholars from diverse backgrounds. Nearly one-third were born outside the United States and three-quarters have parents originating from over 60 countries. Nearly half were the first in their family to attend college.

Throughout their college careers, Milken Scholars are in regular communication with Milken Scholars staff, mentors and with one another.

“The power of the program is in the network. When a young person is selected as a Milken Scholar, he or she immediately gains access to leaders all across the country and in every sector of the economy,” said Simone Friedman, executive director of Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies. “Scholars also receive personalized support and attention from dedicated Milken Family Foundation staff, which is especially helpful for those Scholars who are the first in their family to attend college." 

Every summer, Scholars participate in a three-day Summit in Los Angeles, where Scholars staff and a range of distinguished speakers provide a forum for the participants to discuss issues crucial to their personal, academic and professional success. A Summit highlight for the D.C. Scholars will be their first encounter with fellow Scholars chosen from New York City and Greater Los Angeles. Over the coming years, the Summit will provide opportunities for Scholars to form and renew friendships, reflect on their personal growth, and exchange ideas and aspirations.

Milken Scholars are selected in their senior year of high school through a rigorous nomination, application review and interview process.

For details about the Milken Scholars program, visit http://www.milkenscholars.org.

To schedule interviews, contact Ana Beatriz Cholo, acholo@mff.org; (310) 570-4773 (work); (312) 927-4845 (cell).