Nine students recognized at MLK Scholarship Dinner

Groton — When Fitch High School senior Lily Johnson was in eighth grade, all she wanted to do was fit in with her white peers, and so she wore brown Ugg boots, black leggings, red flannel shirts and no-show socks.

But when she started high school and learned from her indoor track peers that "black is beautiful," she embraced a fashion sensibility that was quite different: socks with fine art on them.

"Find the people who will support you and push you toward greatness," Johnson encouraged current eighth-graders on Thursday evening. "Step out of your brown Uggs and find your socks."

Johnson is president of the Key Club at Fitch High School in Groton and recipient of the Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Award, for her commitment to social justice issues. Her goal is to someday work for the United Nations.

Johnson is one of the nine 2017 recipients of the $20,000 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship. The scholarships were presented during the 36th annual scholarship dinner, held Thursday evening in the packed ballroom of the Mystic Marriott.

The other recipients are Guercie Guerrier, Adriana Diaz, Nicholas Benjamin, Zahena Dieujuste, Shelby Olsen, Darryl Bredy, Jamin Importante and Joleigh Yim.

After opening remarks and dinner, sponsors individually introduced the recipients, who applied at the end of their junior year.

They were selected based on academic performance, citizenship, community service and financial need, noted James Mitchell, president of the MLK Trust Fund.

The presentation of each recipient began with a video in which the student calls family to inform them of the good news, talks about herself or himself, and shares a favorite Martin Luther King quote.

The sponsor then detailed the student's high school involvement and achievements, and then the student spoke. The importance of faith and family were common themes in the students' accounts of what brought them to where they are today.

Though perhaps the most unique familial acknowledgment came from Benjamin, who teasingly recognized his mother for reminding him that she brought him into this world and could take him out of it.

During his time at Stonington High School, Benjamin has been involved in the Stonington Community Center's Leadership Program, and he has traveled throughout the country playing soccer.

At Norwich Free Academy, Yim is the head violinist in the orchestra, and she is involved with Amnesty International, the Asian Culture Club and Project Outreach. She intends to study neuroscience on the pre-med track, the same ambition of Guerrier, also an NFA senior.

Guerrier is president of the Robertsine Duncan NAACP Youth Council, participated in the Minorities Introduction to Health Sciences Program at Loma Linda University in California, and has volunteered at The William W. Backus Hospital.

Diaz, who attends the New London Science and Technology Magnet High School, was inspired to go into sociology after visiting a village in the Dominican Republic at age 14.

Academy of the Holy Family student Dieujuste has been involved with the student council, National Honor Society, drama club, concert choir, and the praise and worship team.

"God and my education became my weapons to fight against anything that tried to bring me down," she said at the dinner.

Ledyard High School student Olsen is a National Association for Mental Health essay winner and is representing Connecticut at the National Future Farmers of America Convention in Extemporaneous Public Speaking.

Bredy, a senior at Fitch, plays alto saxophone, clarinet, bass, drums and piano, and he plans to study music and chemical engineering.

Importante, also at Fitch, sailed to Cuba on a tall ship through the program More Than Words, and she is a program leader for Groton Parks and Recreation. She plans to study pediatric medicine.

With nine awardees, the scholarship committee tied its previous record for most winners. Former New London Mayor Eunice McLean Waller and her husband created the fund after King's death in 1968, starting with a $100 award.

e.moser@theday.com

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