(Plain Press, June 2014) (CMSD News Bureau) The Lincoln-West High School prom began in a special way on Friday May 21 as District Board Chair Denise Link presented a $10,000 scholarship check to senior “Mike” Yu Zhang at the Ridge Manor Party Center, where Lincoln West students were gathering for the annual dinner-and-dance party.
Link won the 2013 Urban Educator of the Year honor in October at the Council of the Great City Schools’ 57th annual Fall Conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Along with the award, she received a $10,000 college scholarship to present to a student.
She selected Yu from among 30 students who had submitted applications and essays for CMSD’s annual Army of Believers scholarship and then from among a handful of finalists.
“He’s an impressive young man and humble, too,” Link said. “I was looking first for students with big-picture ideas, but then also, I wanted to hear what the teachers and principal had to say about them. Yu is obviously special, unique and so driven to learn. I really believe him when he says he ‘loves’ calculus, for example. It’s something he’s passionate about.”
Yu, 17, came to the District from China near the end of his eighth-grade year, attending Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy for his freshman year and then Lincoln-West for his final three years.
“I think Yu is a stellar example of rising above circumstances in life,” said Lincoln-West Principal Irene Javier. “He had a very humble upbringing, and he used brains, behavior and belief to rise above it. That’s an example for all of our students, many who come from challenging situations.”
Yu will use the $10,000 to offset the cost of attending Ohio State University, where he plans to study engineering. He will graduate Tuesday night as salutatorian of the Lincoln-West senior class.
He said Friday evening that he was completely surprised by the award because he had initially only applied for the Army of Believers scholarship, but that he was grateful to Board Chair Link and the District for the opportunity to further his future education at Ohio State.
Link’s award is officially known as the Green-Garner Award, recognizing outstanding contributions in urban education and named in memory of urban school leaders Richard R. Green and Edward Garner. It is presented to an urban school superintendent and board member in alternate years. The award is sponsored by the Council, ARAMARK Education and Voyager Learning/Sopris Learning.
“One of the things that I really wanted Yu to understand in this is what a national honor it really is,” Link said. “I wanted him to be aware of the legacy of those who have come before him.” The list includes Basheer Jones, who received the award from then-CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
The only criteria for Green-Garner scholarship was that student be a 2014 graduate of CMSD. The scholarship money will go directly to the college.
Link said in addition to being deserving academically, Yu had real need for the financial aid.
“At the end of the interview, he told me, ‘Education is the only way out for me,’” Link said. “He said his family was himself and his widowed mother, who is an unskilled worker.
“I am truly humbled and honored to be able to help Yu on his path to success.