8 D.C. students surprised with prestigious scholarships

Tai\'Lon Jackson\'s scholarship letter. (WTOP/Jamie Forzato)

WASHINGTON — A free college education is rare, but eight D.C. high school seniors learned Tuesday their hard work paid off big time.

They were awarded the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg scholarship, which provides a full ride to George Washington University.

The scholarship was kept secret to the recipients. So when the Bailou High School marching band filed into the auditorium to face the entire senior class, one of the trombone players got the surprise of his life.

GW President Steven Knapp addressed the crowd and announced the recipient, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to pull someone out of the band for this. It’s Mr. Tai’Lon Jackson.”

Jackson says he was stunned. “It feels unbelievable, really. I didn’t think that I would be qualified for this prestigious scholarship because there are so many other people competing for it… To be considered and to be picked for this scholarship makes me feel amazing.”

The scholarship covers tuition, room, board, books and fees — totaling more than $200,000.

His mother, Hellina Jackson, says it’s a dream come true.

“I’m so proud of Tai’Lon. He’s a very humble guy and he works so hard. He studies so much. I’m so emotional. Words cannot explain how proud I am of him right now.”

Jackson already has an impressive resume. Not only does he play the trombone; he’s the class president, valedictorian, competes in the chess club and studied engineering at Stanford University last summer.

“I had to not be distracted by people calling me, texting me. When I came in the house, I didn’t come in the house and lay down. I got my bookbag out and started on everything that I needed to do.”

GWU was Jackson’s top choice school and he’s excited to begin classes. Jackson says, eventually, he wants to serve in the military.

“I want to be a mechanical engineer in the Air Force. I want to work on the engines in the plane.”

Students are selected for the scholarship based on academic achievement, extracurricular activities and recommendations.

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