MAXWELL:  Student rises above adversity, follows her dream of a bright future

2/27/2000 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVEsection of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper



Some life stories are filled with such courage and determination that they beckon to be told. Following is the simple tale of Shenique Gilbert, a 17-year-old senior at Hallandale High School, a sprawling urban campus between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

The mean streets of this South Florida city _ the violence, the lack of economic opportunities, the low expectations _ have destroyed many lives and prevented countless professional careers from taking root. Most people agree that only the smart, the hard-working and the very lucky can successfully escape this environment.

Count Shenique among the smart and hard-working.

One of six children reared by a single mom, she has won a $10,000 Horatio Alger Association scholarship. The scholarships are given to 105 students nationwide who have overcome adversity and who have reached specific goals.

Alger, who died in 1899, wrote 100 bestselling books for boys. The stories, such as Ragged Dick, Luck and Pluck and Tattered Tom, were about poor newsboys and other menial laborers whose honesty and industry pushed them beyond adversity and gained them economic success.

Indeed, adversity has been one of Shenique’s constant companions. Her father spent 10 years in prison, and her older sister dropped out of high school. Her mother, Eddie Mae Ware, is a devout Christian who has supported her children _ alone _ as a house cleaner.

Drugs have been in Shenique’s face all of her life, and world-hardened brothers and sisters have tried to lure her away from her dream of attending college and becoming a high school history teacher.

But she has chosen to follow her dream.

In the fall, Shenique will attend Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. She is president of Hallandale’s student government, a star in five sports and a scholar in the top 10 percent of her class.

Shenique is not perfect, but try to find someone who has anything negative to say about her.

Deidre Mobley, lead instructor for the school’s Institute of Business and Entrepreneurialship, said Shenique has more “drive” than any other student she has ever taught. The program is tough, teaching students how to write resumes, how to dress and how to venture into business with confidence and assertiveness. Each student is carefully selected.

“Shenique is out of this world,” Mobley said. “You don’t see this kind of motivation in most people her age. She will succeed because of her positive attitude toward education. She looks toward the future. When I first met her two years ago, she was quiet and shy.

“But she had a spark in her eyes, and she paid attention in class. She has changed a lot. Now, she is outspoken. She takes leadership both in class and out of class. I am very proud of her. This is a tough two-year program.”

When asked to account for her bright future, Shenique does not care if she is called a goody-goody.

“I am doing well because of God, my mother and my family,” she said. “All of my teachers, coaches and our principal help me. My classmates are real supportive. My mother, though, is my role model. She works hard and takes care of us. She motivates me, and the rest of my family motivate me. They are depending on me to succeed.

“I will be the first one in my family to attend college. I’m a good basketball player, and I hope to get a basketball scholarship, too. I want to succeed for me and for them. After I finish college, I want to come back here and teach history and own a business.”

In May, when Horatio Alger scholarship winners travel to Washington, D.C., Shenique will be there, too. She and her peers will spend a week visiting the Smithsonian Institution, touring the Capitol and listening to some of the nation’s political leaders, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who will deliver a special motivational speech.

Meanwhile, she will continue to study, run the student government, play sports, help her mother clean their home and keep her three siblings still living at home out of trouble.