Whatever Happened To ... the D.C. high school senior who struggled to graduate?


Jonathan Lewis graduated from high school and is pursuing a career as a rapper. (Mark Gail/WASHINGTON POST)
May 1, 2011

For two yearsin a row, Jonathan Lewis struggled to graduate from Calvin Coolidge Senior High School in Washington. He was a capable, but truant and underachieving, student in the District public schools, chronically one of the worst performing systems in the country.

In spring 2007, Lewis, then a senior for the second time, needed a C in his American Government class to get his high school diploma, but he came up just three points shy, his struggle chronicled in a front-page Post series.

“I thought I was going to be a nobody, for real,” Lewis, now 22, recalls from the living room of the neatly ordered Riggs Park apartment he shares with his mother, Kathryne. At her insistence, he went to summer school and graduated on his third try, in August of that year.

Since then, the real world has had a few hard lessons for Lewis, as well. “I thought I’d get a quick job, stack some money up and take it from there,” he said. But the quick job didn’t materialize.

Finally, in spring 2008, he landed a security guard job at the Washington Convention Center. He quit by September. Too much work for too little pay, he thought. He hung out with friends and performed at go-go clubs as a rapper with the band he and another friend helped found in high school. He continued to apply for jobs.

In spring 2010, he became a lot attendant at Ourisman Honda in Laurel; a good job, he says, that paid well and that he liked.

A few months later, his mother, who’d steadfastly refused to let Jonathan drop out of high school, became gravely ill with a potentially deadly flesh-eating bacterial infection know as necrotizing fasciitis. She remained hospitalized for three months, and Lewis says, “I felt like life was over.”

He visited as often as he could, and he continued working. In September, he failed to show up for a shift while visiting his mother in the hospital and was fired.

These days, he sleeps late and hangs out with friends. He has put in applications at Giant, Home Depot and the post office. He raps, alone and with a group called the Tokyo Boys, giving away his CD at parties or on the street. His song “Whatchoo Doin?” has caught on with listeners.

He hopes his music career “blows up,” because he loves music and takes it seriously, he says. A lot of people rhyme, but “they’re not real artists,” he says.

The truth is, though, that although he struggled to graduate from high school, he has struggled in different ways since finishing.

“Being out here, when you get grown, you’re on your own, for real,” Lewis says.

CURIOUS? Tell us what past Washington Post story or person in the news you want us to update. E-mail trents@washpost.com or call 202.334.4208.

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