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    Saturday, March 02, 2024

    MLK Scholars lauded at awards ceremony dinner

    Stecie Celestin, of Norwich Free Academy, is congratulated Thursday, Oct.19, 2023, during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship awards dinner at Mystic Marriott in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Felix Adrian Beltre, of Ledyard High School, gives his speech Thursday, Oct.19, 2023, during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship awards dinner at Mystic Marriott in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Gianni Martinez Drab, of Fitch High School, gives his speech Thursday, Oct.19, 2023, during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship awards dinner at Mystic Marriott in Groton. Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton ― Norwich Free Academy senior Stecie Celestin said Thursday that Dr. Martin Luther King did not construct physical buildings or houses.

    He built a legacy.

    Describing the various homes she has lived in, she said, “I stand on a foundation of concrete slats, steel plates and crimson clay weathered bricks and with that, I build my legacy” as hundreds of people in the ballroom of the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa applauded.

    Celestin, who plans to become a health administrator to make systemic changes in public health in her community, was among the dozen scholarship recipients celebrated Thursday evening during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Trust Fund’s 42nd Annual Scholarship Awards Ceremony. The scholars reflected on their future plans, their family and supporters, and the legacy of King.

    She said her mother’s “hard work, patience and successes are the beams to all of my ambitions, and because of you our house is not just made of bricks, dry wall or two-by-four wood, our house is a home.”

    Gianni Martinez Drab, a Fitch High School senior, who plans to study aerospace engineering, reflected on a question that changed his life: “Why not be elite?“

    “I began to think Harvard, Yale, Princeton, a Hispanic-Italian American aerospace engineer,” he said to loud applause, “launching rockets to Mars, in cahoots with Elon Musk.”

    He added that he’s reminded “I can be elite too, daring to make the first step.”

    Gabriela Santiago Cruz, a senior at New London Multi-Magnet High School who plans to become a diagnostic medical travel sonographer, took the stage and shared her poetic words.

    “A black hole absorbs the light of your excellence, throws you into the dark. I open my eyes, it is a classroom black hole staring at me,” she said. “Dr. King said, ‘Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.’ I hear you, Dr. King.”

    “I was shy but I had a voice. She made me feel mute. I am smart and gifted. She made me feel worthless,” she continued. “In her eyes, being a bilingual Latina was a disability. In my eyes, it is a God-given power that has let me showcase my excellence on the brightest stage tonight.”

    Shya Fine, a Stonington High School student who plans to be an athletic trainer, said she lives in Stonington but is from New London, “a small city, with big dreams.” She said just like New London, she has big dreams, and just like, Dr. King, she will follow them.

    During the ceremony, scholars Stephanie Flores Aguilar, Mackenzie Hope and Katheryn Regan stood on the stage and sang the national anthem and the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice,” as hundreds of people in the ballroom stood, some singing along, and applauded loudly.

    Birse Timmons, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Trust Fund, quoted King from his 1967 “Where do we go from here” speech to more than 100 Black leaders at the 11th Annual Student Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. King said, “Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with audacious faith in the future.”

    Timmons said he hopes that scholars use tonight’s gift as a catalyst and these words from King as motivation to “be fearless and bold in their pursuits because their future is extremely bright.”

    Timmons said that following the assassination of King in 1968, Dr. William Waller and Eunice Waller gave the first scholarship to a New London High School student, Herbert Ross. With the awarding of $25,000 scholarships to 12 students this year, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Trust Fund now has awarded a total 237 scholarships.

    The scholars

    In an announcement in September, The Board of Trustees of the trust fund said the scholars “from across New London County were chosen through a rigorous selection process designed to measure their dedication to learning, their understanding of Dr. King's mission, the content of their character, and their financial need.” They “were selected after a review of their application, academic records, community service, class standing, and a written essay.”

    The 12 scholars participate in a variety of clubs, sports and volunteer commitments and are choosing among a host of colleges. In addition to those mention above, they are as follows:

    Felix Adrian Beltre, a Ledyard High School senior, plans to study veterinary science.

    Alexa Collins, a Waterford High School senior, intends to study environmental engineering.

    Sian Crespo, a senior at New London Multi-Magnet High School, plans to study studio art with an emphasis on the vision of the tattoo.

    Stephanie Flores Aguilar, a senior at New London Multi-Magnet High School, plans to study pharmacy.

    Mackenzie Hope, a Ledyard High School senior, plans to study animal science.

    Ernsly Joseph, a senior at the New London Multi-Magnet High School, wants to pursue political science and become a United States ambassador.

    Calvin McCoy III, a Fitch High School senior, plans to study finance.

    Katheryn Regan, a Fitch High School senior, plans to become a medical doctor.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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