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Four Superstar Seniors in Washington, D.C., Earn $10,000 Milken Scholars Award

2024 class represents Program's 35th anniversary developing "Lifelong Leaders for a Better World"

June 11, 2024

Santa Monica, Calif., Four outstanding college-bound Washington, D.C., students received an extra dose of good news to close out their high school careers: They are 2024 Milken Scholars! The scholarship Program, a joint initiative of the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation, honors high school seniors in Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles County each year with a $10,000 cash prize and lifelong access to college advising, career counseling, internship assistance, community service opportunities, and a fund to help with graduate school applications, unpaid internships, study abroad programs, and other costs associated with their pursuit of a career.

The 2024 Washington, D.C., Milken Scholars are: 

  • Jonali Gaylor, McKinley Technology High School, Hampton University
  • Mekdelawit (Mekdi) Gebreslassie, Parkmont School, Princeton University
  • Akesh Mallia, School Without Walls Senior High School, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Selena Reyes-Flores, Georgetown Visitation School, Yale

Established in 1989 by Mike and Lori Milken, the Milken Scholars Program celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. After completing a rigorous nomination, application and interview process, Milken Scholars are selected based on academic performance, community service, leadership, and their ability to persevere in the face of personal challenges. Past recipients include inaugural poetAmanda Gorman;Ruben Harutunian, treasurer of the board of the Binational Fulbright Commission in Egypt and minister-counselor for public diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo; Dr. Joelle Simpson, chief of emergency medicine at Children's National Hospital; and award-winning entrepreneur Emanuel Yekutiel.

"In its 35th year, as the Milken Scholars Program approaches a total of nearly 600 remarkable young men and women representing more than 80 nations, Lori and I never fail to be amazed and gratified by their achievements," said Mike Milken.

This month, the Washington, D.C., Milken Scholars will be celebrated by the Washington, D.C., Milken Scholars community at an annual Recognition Ceremony. In July, they will attend a three-day summit in Los Angeles with over 100 Scholars including new Milken Scholars from New York City and Los Angeles County, as well as undergraduates and alumni facilitators in fields across all industries. Students gain insight and guidance from speakers, panels and activities while discussing the Summit theme Shaping a Shared Future and learning more about the support structure they will receive throughout their college careers and beyond. Access to such resources creates a setting that propels these exceptional youth into a position where they can achieve their personal, academic and professional goals and, in the process, become "Lifelong Leaders for a Better World."

Mike and Lori Milken founded the Milken Scholars Program to promote and assist exceptional youth as they navigate the transitions from high school to college and from college to graduate school or the world of work. As of 2024, the program reaches over 575 students representing more than 80 countries of origin since its first 1989 class.

Milken Scholars embody a variety of ages, backgrounds, and academic and professional interests, and attend some of the top colleges and universities in the country. Twenty-five percent were born outside the U.S. and 78% have parents originating from over 80 countries. More than half are first generation in their family to attend college, while 46% are the first person in their family to attend college in the U.S. The class of 2024 is one of the most diverse yet, representing 16 countries spanning North America, Central America, West Africa, Northeast Africa, the Middle East, Western Europe, East Asia, and South Asia.


Jonali Gaylor 
Hampton University

Jonali Gaylor quickly became a leader at McKinley Technology High School (MTHS), where she served as vice president and founder of Hack Club, her school's first computer science-related club. She completed coding projects, built websites, drew pixel art, coded games and competed in hackathons. Helping freshmen decide which of her school's three academies to pursue – biotechnology, engineering or information technology – Jonali served as the computer science representative and panelist in her junior and senior years. Passionate about inspiring young students as a Black female in tech, Jonali contributed to the academy's significant growth and diversity by highlighting the program’s qualities, engaged students' questions and interests, and participated in the change she wanted to see.

Jonali is an AP Scholar, College Board National African American Recognition Awardee, and recipient of the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship. Jonali unleashed her talents as a geographic information systems specialist intern at the D.C. Department of Public Works, where she helped to improve waste collection processes, co-designed a GIS map to navigate the city through its murals, developed an automatic email response system, and redesigned websites. During her software development internship at Indie Co., she helped build a QR code generator and control panel. 

Additionally, Jonali was a decorated varsity athlete at MTHS. Her leadership shined through in her roles as co-captain of both the flag football and soccer teams, and participation on the swimming team. Outside of athletics, Jonali hosted school poetry slams as the Poetry Club’s vice president, participated in the Gardening Club, and volunteered her time at a food pantry and packaging meal boxes for families during COVID. 

Jonali will study computer science at Hampton University and plans a career in software engineering.

Mekdelawit (Mekdi) Gebreslassie 
Princeton University 

With roots in Ethiopia, Mekdelawit (Mekdi) Gebreslassie is a first-generation immigrant, Amharic translator, tutor, and tenants' rights advocate. Among these powerful extracurricular pillars of her life, Mekdi maintained an outstanding high school career. 

Mekdi, a graduate of Parkmont School, is a QuestBridge finalist, Posse Foundation finalist, African Diaspora College Access Program finalist, and recipient of fellowships from Civics Unplugged and Climate Innovators. At Parkmont, Mekdi served as a student government meeting leader and helped coordinate school festivals and activities, while also serving as the founder and leader of Culture Club, where she shared her Ethiopian culture with middle and high school students. She is a talented writer and poet with nationally recognized work as a semifinalist at Brave New Voices and locally at the D.C. Public Library's haiku contest. She is the author of two self-published books entitled "The Amharic Alphabet with Mekdi" and "Thoughts Just for Another Day." More than ten of her original poems were published with Day Eight in the book “Why We Write.” Furthering her passion for writing and expression, Mekdi served as a reporter and author for DCTRENDING and participated in the 2023 Immersion Cohort in the Emerging Journalists Program at Elon University. 

Continuing to advocate for her community, Mekdi is an English tutor for Ukrainians through ENGin and translates for families through The Platform of Hope and Mary's Center. She is an editor for the Free Minds Book Club, where she coordinates meetings, assists with curriculum development, and provides feedback on poetry written by incarcerated adults. Additionally, Mekdi lent her talents to the Youth Climate Action Team (YCAT) Inc., Sunrise DC, Sitar Arts Center, and the Takoma Recreation Center. 

Mekdi will study political science at Princeton University and plans a career in law. 

Akesh Mallia 
University of Wisconsin-Madison 

Passionate about "shooting for the stars," Akesh Mallia was founder and president of his school's Space Club, where he planned meetings, presented, brought in aerospace industry speakers, and coordinated bottle rocket launches. He led the club at the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, receiving a D.C. Local Impact Award, and at MIT's Build a CubeSat Challenge at the Beaver Works Summer Institute. He interned at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as an instrumentation and payload lead, where he worked on developing cameras and sensors. Akesh shared his love of space through teaching astronomy to middle school students at Carnegie Science’s First Light Astronomy Outreach Program. 

A graduate of School Without Walls Senior High School, Akesh earned an Associate of Arts degree in general studies through George Washington University's Early College Program. At GWU, he made the Dean's list, served as councilmember on the Integrity and Conduct Council, and was a calculus undergraduate learning assistant. Akesh is a National Merit Scholar, OSSE Scholar, Posse Scholar, and National Honor Society member. In his internship at the Georgia Gwinnett College School of Science and Technology, he studied the effectiveness of antimalarial drugs, was published in a peer-reviewed journal, and presented at meetings of the American Chemical Society. 

Akesh was team captain of the policy debate team where he placed in debate tournaments and received the Washington Urban Debate League's Adam J. Rubinson Memorial Award. He spoke at the Cato Institute on economic inequality and published live commentary on the 2024 presidential debates for Newsweek. Additionally, he was the Future Business Leaders of America school chapter vice president, robotics team member, and volunteered with the Japanese Tamago Language and Cultural Learning Program. 

Akesh will study mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and plans a career in aerospace engineering. 

Selena Reyes-Flores 

Selena Reyes-Flores will be the first generation in her family to go to college. With Spanish as her first language, she serves as a translator for not only her own family, but also for Spanish-speaking patients at Children's National Hospital, where she volunteered greeting visitors, leading activities and shadowing nurses. During a public health internship through Leadership Initiatives, Selena led a team that researched international healthcare, communicated with international health officials, and designed workshops to increase awareness in Bauchi, Nigeria, about acute respiratory tract infection and urinary tract infection. 

Selena is a graduate of Georgetown Visitation School. She is an AP Scholar with Honor, Cloriviere Scholar, and received the College Board National Hispanic Recognition Award, Hispanic Heritage Foundation Youth Award: Blue Region Silver Medal in Healthcare and Science, and the National French Contest Gold Medal. Selena was a member of the Cum Laude Society, National French Honors Society, and served as vice president of Vamos Community Tutoring Club. In this role, she tutored K-10 students in math, reading and Spanish; communicated with families; planned events; designed lesson plans; and fundraised for learning materials. Expanding her tutoring and mentorship skills, Selena volunteered to help students in pre-K through second grade with math, spelling and reading skills at Little Lights Center. 

A founding member of Latinas Unidas, Selena helped plan school celebrations of Latino culture and promoted inclusivity. She performed with the multi-genre dance group, EnVISIon, helped teach choreography to young dancers, and worked on the theater crew as a costume designer and set builder. Selena continued her advocacy for minority youth through volunteer work with her school's Mental Health Club and afterschool academic programs. 

Selena will study chemistry at Yale and plans a career in medicine.

About the Milken Scholars
Michael and Lori Milken founded the Milken Scholars in 1989 to honor exceptional young individuals who have demonstrated the potential to make a profound difference in the world. Scholars are chosen while high school seniors on the basis of distinguished academic performance, school and community service, leadership, and evidence of having overcome personal, financial, and/or social obstacles. Milken Scholars receive financial assistance plus a strong support system of resources and networks during their academic and professional careers. For more information,