Leah Merrifield, Holden Thorp and Tabitha Smith

Leah Merrifield, director of the College Prep Program, and Provost Holden Thorp present Tabitha Smith, a senior at Hazelwood East, with a College Prep honor cord. Smith will be attending Washington University. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Lerone A. Martin, assistant professor of religion and politics in the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, had these words of advice for the inaugural cohort of the College Prep Program at Washington University in St. Louis: Go to office hours. Take the classes you enjoy.  And never hide your light.

“When you come home from college on break, you may hear from your old friends, ‘You’ve changed. You’re not the same anymore.’ With humility, it’s OK to say, ‘I have changed,’” Martin told the 25 graduating high school seniors. 

“Do not hide your light to make other people comfortable. I’m not saying shine your light in other people’s faces. But you are who are you are. You’ve been given gifts and opportunities – like this program, for example – to shine.”

The College Prep scholars gathered in Knight Hall’s Emerson Auditorium on the Washington University in St. Louis campus April 23 to celebrate the end of high school, to reflect on their three summers together, and to glean words of wisdom and encouragement from the university leaders who have invested in their success.

Every member has been accepted into colleges across the nation from University of San Francisco to Duke University to St. Louis College of Pharmacy, and most have received generous scholarship support. In total, the cohort has received more than $4 million in scholarship offers. Five students will be attending Washington University, which will provide students financial support through its College Prep Scholarship.

Emanuel Barcenas of Pattonville High School is one those students. He plans to enroll in the philosophy-neuroscience-psychology program in Arts & Sciences.

“I didn’t know what my potential was until I joined the program,” Barcenas said. “I never would have thought that I could go to a school like Wash. U., but I’m ready.”

Washington University launched the College Prep Program in 2013 as a way to prepare talented, first-generation high school students from the St. Louis region for college. For three summers, students live and learn on campus, participating in science labs, preparing their college essays at the Writing Center and studying with top university faculty.

Provost Holden Thorp, who led a College Prep seminar about the importance of teamwork in both science and music, referenced the Stevie Wonder hit “Superstition” in his parting remarks.

“You learned about math and science, music and the arts, how to do research and learn things for yourself,” Thorp said. “That’s important because ‘When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.’ Knowledge is the way.”

For more information on the College Prep Program or to nominate someone, visit https://collegeprep.wustl.edu.

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