By Darcel Rockett Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) 18-year-old Jayla Wheeler is ready for a new chapter as she begins her college career this fall at Davidson college in North Carolina.
Chicago resident Jayla Wheeler is like many high school seniors. Not happy about missing milestones like prom and an in-person graduation because of the pandemic. But she's also living in a time when police reform protests are commonplace. She, like other teens, are in both worlds.
When looting and rioting made its way to her neighborhood, she went out with her mother and sister to help clean up debris. The 18-year-old participated in a march in her neighborhood, and she signed numerous petitions in the name of social justice, wanting to do whatever she can for the cause, she said.
"I feel good saying yes. I am part of change," said the recent Westinghouse College Prep graduate. "This is a good learning lesson, a good way to express myself to show that I am here, my people are here and even though it's under bad circumstances, it doesn't hurt to push for change."
Change is constant, so much so these days, many ask: When will "normal" return?
For Wheeler, president of her school's National Honor Society and an athlete who had just made the varsity softball team before COVID-19 shut schools down, normal will mean starting her college career at Davidson College in North Carolina. Wheeler will attend the private, liberal arts college this fall. She will attend the school for free after winning the Davidson College Charles scholarship, which provides tuition, fees, and room and board (approximately $70,000 per year). Wheeler said she's interested in physics, minoring in African-American history and continuing her Chinese language studies.
"Everyone wants a better life for themselves. ... I want to help people, but I also want a nice salary," she said. "That's pretty much been my dream. I haven't found another career where I'm like: 'Ohmygod, I want to do that instead,' but I'm definitely not closing anything off."
Wheeler was part of the Schuler Scholar Program while at Westinghouse on Chicago's West Side, a program that has partnered with over a dozen area high schools (and one in Milwaukee) since 2001, to help students of color and those from low income families on the path to college. The college access program works with students to help them holistically during their entire high school career, at no cost to families.
"It is our privilege to be serving these kids," said Ali Morguson, the regional director for the Schuler Scholar Program. "Almost all of our students will be graduating college with very little student loan debt. We talk about issues of access and an unfair spreading of the wealth of resources, but these schools are doing what they should be doing, giving students like Jayla the chance to be there. They have a lot of money to give to students like Jayla, who are more than deserving."
Wheeler said she took part in her high school's graduation parade June 10, where families and students drove by the school so teachers and staff could offer their well-wishes during this time of COVID-19. Now Wheeler is keeping an eye out for her start date at Davidson, as well as possible protests near her residence. Her advice for other young people?
"This might be kind of corny, but don't give up on yourself. Where you are now isn't really where you are later. I would have never thought in a million years that I would have gotten a full ride. When I was a kid, I only thought people who got those were super-athletes, football and basketball players or super geniuses, but I got one, and I don't do any of those things. So have trust and faith in yourself, and keep pushing because the journey never stops. You just have to keep pushing." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.