Every year the Fund for Advancement of Minorities through Education graduates a group of Pittsburgh area high school students bound for some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country. This year’s group of 2011-2012 FAME scholars was no different.

SENIOR WINNERS—The seniors, from left: Valiha Jones, Kylie Harris, Victoria Peatross, Michael Sutton, Dayna Johnson. Seated are: Simone Coleman and Torri Orr. (Photos by Rossano P. Stewart)

“If it wasn’t for FAME, I’d be stuck in a less reputable school district,” said Michael Sutton, a senior at Sewickley Academy, who lives in Aliquippa. “I’ve gained experience I wouldn’t have been able to get elsewhere.”

Founded in the early 1990s, FAME provides scholarships for disadvantaged African-American students to attend one of six independent schools including, The Ellis School, St. Edmund’s Academy, Sewickley Academy, Shady Side Academy, The Kiski School and Winchester Thurston. At the 14th Annual FAME Luncheon, at the Duquesne Club on April 19, the organization showcased their most recent group of graduates.

“They have access to an education they would not otherwise have access to, particularly students of color. What we find is in independent schools, children are exposed to a higher level of rigor,” said Constance Horton, FAME executive director. “We wanted these talented, bright, educated students to have the education they need, so they can reach the goals they desire. We are serious and deliberate about retention. They all graduate from college.”

There are currently 65 students enrolled in independent schools through FAME. Another 76 alumni have graduated and gone on to attend college.

“You’re opened to a wide variety of opportunities. FAME has created a family environment. They’re always looking to help their students strive for the best,” said Dayna Johnson, a student at The Ellis School, who plans to study psychology at Howard University. “The transition also brought difficult experiences, but I grew stronger. Public school was all I knew and when I made the transition into a smaller community where I was the minority, it was a culture shock. Looking back, I realize just how fortunate I am to have been involved in FAME. As I move on to college I will take every lesson FAME has taught me.”

Among the speakers addressing the graduates was David Porges, chairman, president and CEO of EQT Corp. He shared stories of some of the great champions of education equity, while encouraging the scholars to overcome whatever disparities they might face.

“I’m a firm believer in the equalizing power of education. Increasingly in our society, equal opportunity means having access to a quality education. It is fascinating to me that many of the great champions of education, did not have access to a quality education themselves,” said Porges, who serves on the board of trustees for Winchester Thurston. “So my message to our corporate colleagues is, we all benefit from a better-educated society. My message to the students is to embrace the opportunities you do have.”

Also addressing the scholars was Patrice Alexander, a former FAME scholar. As a Winchester Thurston alumna from the class of 2006, Alexander has graduated college and returned to Winchester Thurston as a teacher.

“The first thing I want to remind you is it’s ok to dream. Dreaming, plus having a strong work ethic, equals success,” Alexander said. “You’re the only one who can come between you and your dreams.”

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