Jill Scott watches onstage as the graduates receive their diplomas. The singer announced scholarships for all 45 graduates of Camden’s Creative Arts High School.
A gift to build a dream on
Good news for graduates of a Camden school: Scholarships for all.
By Dwight Ott and Melanie Burney
Inquirer Staff Writers -
TOM GRALISH / Inquirer
CAMDEN - For the first graduates of the Creative Arts High School, yesterday was already going to be a big day.
Then Jill Scott delivered the magic.
The R&B singer, who informally adopted the South Camden school earlier this year, stunned the 45 graduates with her announcement that each would receive a scholarship from her.
The biggest gift - worth an estimated $15,000 - went to Katina Chase, 17, the valedictorian, who will use it to fulfill her dream of attending New York University.
The money will bridge the gap between NYU's financial aid package and the actual cost of the first year there: about $41,000 for tuition, room, board and other expenses.
"I didn't know I was going to get it!" Chase, an aspiring music talent scout, said after the ceremony at Rutgers-Camden. "I had already made plans to attend another college. It just goes to show if you hold on to a dream to the very end, it will work out."
Scott also awarded $1,000 scholarships to the 44 other graduates.
"You guys have so much passion," a beaming Scott said from the podium inside the Walter K. Gordon Theater. "It's a wonderful thing. Push - don't stop! It's going to be very difficult. You need to know the devil is still alive."
The students at the Creative Arts graduation were described by several speakers yesterday as "pioneers." The school began with 48 freshmen in 1999 and a new class was added each year.
"We have made history," Chase told her fellow graduates. "We have paved the way. We must prove once again there is hope."
Located in South Camden, Creative Arts was formed to showcase the talent in the city's schools, churches and neighborhoods. It now has about 190 students, who were chosen based on applications, essays, auditions and portfolios.
In four years, the school has become a rare success story in Camden, where the dropout rate is more than six times the state average of 3 percent.
"There is an ugly untruth put forth," U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) said in the keynote address. "They say Camden is an ugly place. They are wrong. There is great beauty here."
Yesterday's graduation was one of four held in the troubled school district of 18,500 students. The others were at Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School, Camden High School, and Woodrow Wilson High School.
Scott, who was nominated for two Grammy awards this year, shared the stage with music pioneer Leon Huff, who grew up in the city's Centerville section and has also supported the Creative Arts school.
Huff, half of the songwriting team of Gamble and Huff, presented a $1,000 scholarship to Nahamah Jackson, who will attend Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C., this fall.
"I'm from Camden and music is my life," Huff said. "I just wanted to help an outstanding student. Creative Arts is very competitive. You have to have a burning desire to make it."
Scott, who grew up in North Philadelphia, became involved with Creative Arts after freshman Tierra Delk wrote her a letter last fall inviting her to visit. Scott's platinum debut CD, Who Is Jill Scott? in 2000 impressed the music world with its sultry mix of jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and spoken word.
Due to her busy schedule, Scott was unable to visit the school until March. She was so impressed when she came to see the students dance that she selected eight of them to perform in a video that was taped in May.
During the visit, she talked with the students about entertainment careers and even sang "Summertime." Scott has visited the school since then to see how the students were doing, and calls periodically to check on them, said principal Davida Coe.
"She knows their names," Coe said. "Her spirit is so sweet. It's so genuine."
Coe said Scott had not sought any publicity about her relationship with the school, the second magnet school in Camden. Students are encouraged to express themselves through visual arts, drama, dance, creative writing, instrumental music and costume design.
"I gave them the money because they are great kids," Scott said yesterday. "I knew the teachers here. I know and believe in these students. I love this school."
Although Chase had planned to attend a New Jersey college that offered her a full scholarship, she really wanted to follow her dream to attend NYU in Manhattan.
"She can get a job coming from that college," said her mother, Ernestine Chase, 47. "I wanted her to go where she wanted to go."
Chase said she is confident that she will raise enough money for all four years - now that Scott has opened the door for her. She plans to major in communications and business.
"She made up the difference," Chase said. "It's what I needed. I'm going to go!"
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[ July 01, 2003, 11:20 AM: Message edited by: bitonti ]