ENGLEWOOD — Englewood's Harper High School has received a lot of attention this year, and most of it wasn't too good.
An episode of "This American Life" highlighted the school's ongoing issues with violence, pointing out that 29 former or current students have been shot in the last year, eight of them fatally.
First Lady Michelle Obama visited the school while in town earlier this month to discuss gun violence, where students expressed their fears about being caught in the neighborhood crossfire. But students have persevered, and when Harper seniors Deonte Tanner and Brittany Knight were named as 2013 Gates Millennium scholars this week, it motivated their peers.
"If [Deonte] can do it, so can I. And that's not because he is my cousin. It is because I know anything is possible with hard work," said Anthony Boyd, an eighth grader at Elaine Goodlow Magnet School in Englewood who is going to Harper next year. "I'm proud of my cousin. He always was a smart guy. Now, I am not the only one who knows this."
Tanner and Knight's wins have inspired 16-year-old Britany Robinson to apply for the prize as well. She aspires to be a pediatrician someday, so winning a Gates scholarship next year would help make that possible.
"I definitely plan on applying next year. My parents could use the help. College is expensive and medical school is even more expensive," said Robinson, who plans to attend either Clark Atlanta University or Spelman College, also in Atlanta. "No one living around here really expects us to go to college especially coming out of Harper. But they're wrong to think that and Deonte and Brittany are proof of it."
Deonte Tanner said he will decide in the next week which college he will attend, and has narrowed his choices down to Marquette University in Milwaukee or the University of Denver.
"I want to be an elementary teacher. I like helping kids," Tanner said. "I used to tutor eighth graders and that's how I got interested in education."
The 18-year-old said the scholarship came "right on time" for him.
"My mom is a single parent and there [are] seven of us at home. I don't have a job to help out but thank God for this blessing," Tanner said. "After college I want to use my education to help people that are struggling. I grew up in Englewood watching people struggle and I want to change that."
Harper senior Devon Graham, 18, may not have been chosen as a Gates scholar but still plans to attend Northern Illinois University this fall to study engineering. He, too, said it is good to see Harper recognized for something other than violence and low academics.
"I am with my man Deonte 100 percent," Graham said. "When I heard he won the scholarship I was not surprised one bit."
Harper students were not the only Englewood high schoolers to win the prestigious scholarship, which covers full tuition and room and board for the college of their choice.
Aaron Mathews and David Peake from Urban Prep Academy won the scholarship as well. Mathews plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania and Peake has narrowed his choices to Georgetown University, University of Virginia or Grinnell College in Iowa.