Monday, June 08, 2009

Real Hospitality

The cobwebs that have gathered on the Pinon Tree are because I was traveling last week. I returned to Cleveland and the good news that Arnold's surgical procedures were completed. His muscular body is back to its original fine form. Unfortunately, the blood pressure problems that began just before we left for Italy weren't improved by lack of use, so we'll have to take him in for fuel injector work soon. How I miss our wonderful (and insanely inexpensive) mechanic in Ascoli Piceno right about now!

So where was I, you ask? I went to Washington, DC to attend a graduation. When my uncle died last year, his company established a scholarship in his name and my mother was asked to present the award to its first recipient. I envisioned a terribly emotional day; while I was in tears, it wasn't from grief, but instead was inspired by the graduates.

Hospitality High is a Washington, DC charter school, bringing in students from across the District to complete a full load of "normal" academic course requirements, plus training to enter the hospitality industry. My uncle was a great advocate in the school's formation and he mentored and provided jobs for several students in the past.

I gotta tell you, these kids are amazing. Their perseverance and desire to learn is phenomenal. Some must take the metro plus two buses just to reach the school. Many risk physical dangers, face incredible obstacles, and deal with tragic family circumstances, yet they come to school, push themselves and each other to keep going, and manage a 90% attendance rate.

In a city that is marked by a dismal 52% graduation rate, Hospitality High boasts an 80% college acceptance average. The Class of 2009, however, raised the bar...they proudly proclaim a 100% college acceptance rate! And we're not talking about second-rate schools here, but the likes of Michigan State, Delaware State, Johnson and Wales University (recognized by many in the industry as the top culinary and hospitality school), and the historic Tuskegee University (whose first president was Booker T. Washington).

No wonder the families of these students were tooting party horns, cheering loudly and dancing in the aisles! Their excitement was infectious; their stories and commitment were inspiring. One student entered the school with an abysmal grade point average of .59; when he graduated it had soared, along with his confidence, to a fantastic 3.0 GPA. Others saw family members killed or jailed, were themselves mugged or harassed, or faced homelessness, yet they went to school...and excelled. Some of the students were the first in their families to complete high school.

They welcomed us in, and I was clapping wildly, smiling broadly, and beaming proudly just for being in their company. We went to give away a scholarship, but we are the ones who came away richer.


Amanda said...

I stumbled across your blog a couple of months ago, so I thought I'd finally say "hello." This post is very inspiring. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Valerie said...

Hi Amanda - thanks for coming out of the shadows! Those kids are truly inspiring. We can't imagine what they go through and the hurdles they must jump just to get an education. They are very motivated. Stop by anytime...the nest is always open ;)

Anonymous said...

What an honor for him. I'm sure he would be so proud!!

Anonymous said...

The US is indeed the land of opportunity!!

michelle | bleeding espresso said...

What a fabulous story :)

Valerie said...

Anonymous - Dean would definitely be proud of those students!

I do hope lots of doors of opportunity open for these kids. They have lots of heart and soul.

Michelle - A great story inspired by incredible individuals. I was so honored to be there.