Waterford High School senior aims to go beyond expectations

Waterford — Last October, Pastor Larry W. De Long stopped his sermon at Miracle Temple Church and made Alversia Wade stand up.

The 18-year-old smiled as she stood in the pew, clearly shy but enjoying the attention a little.

De Long spent several minutes praising Wade for her accomplishments, listing off several awards and pointing out her most recent win, a $20,000 scholarship through the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund.

At one point Wade tried to sit down, but De Long noticed. She wasn't getting off that easy.

The pastor of the New London church seemed to be trying to make a point to his congregation, in case they didn't already know.

Alversia Wade never stops.

The Waterford High School senior is planning to attend Spelman College in Atlanta next fall. In her last year at Waterford High School she has volunteered as a tutor, excelled on the cheerleading team and has been in attendance at Shiloh Baptist Church almost every single Sunday. Wade attends Shiloh regularly but had been visiting at Miracle Temple in October when De Long singled her out in his sermon.

She won't even take time to slow down this summer. Summer reading, a job in the nursery school at Shiloh Baptist — where both her parents work — and volunteering with the church's debutante cotillion will keep her busy right up until she moves to Atlanta.

"It's full speed," she said, laughing at her never-ending schedule.

Wade said she puts pressure on herself to succeed, but attention like she received from De Long's sermon is part of the reason she wanted to go to Spelman, a historically black college.

"Here in Waterford, there's not a lot of people like me," she said. Wade tried to count the other black students in her class at Waterford High, stopping before she used all 10 fingers.

"That means that sometimes, I'm the only one who actually has the credentials to receive an award," she said. "It's like 'Oh, wow, she's so unique.' That's not building me up at all, just being given stuff because I'm not the only one who qualifies."

At Spelman, Wade said she hopes she'll stand out for her own work and not just for being part of a racial minority.

"It's a lot," she said of the attention and awards that have followed her since she moved to Waterford in fourth grade.

"Sometimes I don't know what I've done to get it. Contrary to what everybody thinks, I don't like attention — if it's just because, 'Oh, you just won this scholarship,' I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, so I shouldn't have recognition for it."

At Spelman, she said, she won't be asked if she likes watermelon or have to argue for the merits of affirmative action policies.

"I wanted to be in an environment where there are people like me who are all focused on the same thing, who can give me competition, who can help me grow," she said. "I think Spelman is the perfect place for that."

Wade's parents moved to Groton when her dad was stationed there with the U.S. Navy, then moved to Waterford when she was in fourth grade and her younger brother, now a sophomore at Waterford High School, was born. Her father is now youth pastor at Shiloh.

She said she's eager to leave Connecticut behind — at least for now — and get to know family members who live in Georgia.

Wade said despite her differences from many of the 170 other members of the Class of 2016, she has felt at home at Waterford, especially while cheering for Waterford's sports teams.

"I love cheerleading," she said. "I like to entertain people. I just like to be in front of people and make them happy."

"Our team doesn't win a lot," she added with a smile, "so I feel like if I can take people's attention off of that and say, 'We're still having fun.'"

Wade plans to major in biology and eventually go to medical school. She wants to bring her own sense of fun to treating kids as a pediatrician or child psychiatrist.

"You do have to have education and training — definitely that's a big part of it," she said. "But another big part of it is connecting with the patients that I have. ...There's a lot of medical jargon you use, and I feel like sometimes doctors talk and it goes right over (patients') heads, and they have no idea what's going on."

Treating kids takes imagination, she said.

"They're not allowed to cry," she said. "If they're crying, (we say) 'Here's a tablet, here's technology.' We treat them like babies, when they're really capable of doing a lot more."

At Spelman, in medical school, and in her future career as a doctor, Wade — a middle child and preacher's daughter — said she won't let up on the pressure she puts on herself to do more than is expected of her.

"I'll hopefully form connections, form lasting connections, be somebody's mentor," she said. "I want to be more than just a physician."

m.shanahan@theday.com

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