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November 15, 2007

   

Azsherae Gary '11 Wins Rising Star Eddy Award

Gary and Staley
Azsherae Gary and Dawn Staley

Each day of her senior year in high school, Azsherae Gary '11 had to take three buses to get to Philadelphia 's Roxborough High in time for the seven o'clock morning bell. It was rough going at times, but her persistence has paid off: according to the Philadelphia Education Fund, her success "exemplifies the unlimited potential of Philadelphia's youth."

Last week, Gary, along with Gov. Ed Rendell, three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley, IBM, community activist Helen Gym and the Congreso de Latinos Unidos, was honored as a "star of public education" at the PEF's 2007 Eddy Awards.

Gary is the winner of the 2007 Rising Star Eddy, awarded annually to a participant in the organization's College Access and Philadelphia Scholars programs.

College Access is a mentoring program that helps students in the Philadelphia School District make educational choices that set them on the path to college and then guides them through the admissions and financial-aid processes. Those who complete the program are eligible for scholarship funds through the Philadelphia Scholars program.

Gary also participated in a Philadelphia Futures program that brings promising students to several colleges in the region during the summer vacation to experience life on campus and do college-prep work. When the program was held at Dickinson College the summer after her junior year, she took a college course in social psychology. Last summer, she was part of a group at Drexel that researched the history of a house on Philadelphia's Lancaster Avenue that may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

"It was so fascinating," she says. "It was just an amazing experience."

The fifth of eight children, Gary is the first member of her family to attend a four-year college, although a couple of older siblings have two-year degrees. College was her goal for as long as she can remember.

She has always liked school, she says, with a sly grin: "Yeah, I've always been a nerd."

She knows she's selling herself short. Yes, she has enjoyed the academic work she did with Philadelphia Futures. And yes, she arrived at Bryn Mawr with several college credits she earned from that program and from AP courses. But she also has a lively interest in performing arts, athletics and her community.

In high school, Gary played volleyball and softball, participated in public-speaking contests, mentored other students and danced with Philadelphia's Freedom Theater, among other activities.

At Bryn Mawr, she's a member of the popular Pulso Latino dance troupe and a participant in the student-led Social Justice Pilot Program.

And then there's her coursework: biology, Spanish, an introductory course in African history and a college seminar titled "The City Imagined and Explored."

"Bryn Mawr is tough," she acknowledges, "but I'm learning so much and really enjoying the experience."

She loves living in Merion Hall, where she finds it quiet enough to study when she needs to, but easy to find a friend when she's ready for a break. She's close to her roommate, who accompanied Gary and her family to the awards ceremony last week.

"Lately I've been going to bed later than she does and getting up earlier," Gary says, "And one day I came into the room and found a card on my bed that said, 'I noticed how hard you're working and I just want to let you know that I'm thinking about you.' I was really touched."

That kind of support is invaluable, Gary knows.

At the awards ceremony, an a capella group performed the song "The Wind Beneath My Wings" just before Gary was presented with the Rising Star Award. Sitting with her mother, in the presence of her PEF mentors, she got a little tearful and was worried that she'd choke up during her acceptance speech.

She drew on her experience in public-speaking contests and as salutatorian of her high-school class, gathered her thoughts, easily won over the crowd and added another entry to her list of challenges overcome.

 

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