'Spellbound' Star Struggles for Happier Ending
Like her grandmother, mother and several aunts and cousins before her, White was a teenage mother. And despite her love for her daughter, Dashayla, then about 2 months old, she was deeply disappointed in herself.
"I was always someone who wanted to be different -- who wanted to work harder, who wanted to achieve more, who wanted to succeed," she said. Instead, "I was basically repeating my family history of teenaged pregnancy. I felt like a failure because everyone had such high expectations for me and thought that I would be the one who would break the cycle."
She gave up on her college plans. She had moved out of her mother's apartment and was ricocheting among temporary homes with the baby when the movie was released. As it turned out, Jones was not the only viewer who began contacting Welch, asking how they could help the least privileged of the movie's young stars.
In addition to paying for her college application, Welch set up a charitable foundation to aid her and other "Spellbound" contestants who needed help paying for college. Via e-mail, Jones and other supporters organized other forms of help.
Inspired by their efforts, White began to rally. She watched "Spellbound" again and was struck, she said, by the determined girl she had been. "I was strong. I had a lot of self-confidence. I was hungry for education and to be victorious," she said. "From that instant, I changed. . . . I realized that the me being discouraged -- that wasn't me."
She took six courses at Howard last semester and made the dean's list with a 3.8 average -- studying for finals in the homeless shelter while caring for Dashayla and waging a telephone campaign to find housing. With a few pieces of furniture donated by SOME (So Others Might Eat), White moved into her one-bedroom apartment in Southeast last week.
She has already assumed $6,000 in student loans and expects to have tens of thousands of dollars in debt before she graduates -- which she fully intends to do despite formidable odds. According to a 1996 study, 1.5 percent of teenage mothers receive their college degrees by the time they are 30.
"In order to achieve something, you have to have the commitment. You have to say, 'I'm going to take the time and focus on this one thing and I'm going to get something out of it,' " she said.
As White was returning from work yesterday and collecting Dashayla, a dramatic duel was being waged at the Grand Hyatt between David Tidmarsh and 13-year-old Akshay Buddiga of Denver, who remained in the hunt despite fainting at the microphone in an earlier round, then scrambling back to his feet to spell "alopecoid" (meaning of or like a fox).
Akshay was finally eliminated when he misspelled "schwarmerei," meaning excessive enthusiasm. David then correctly spelled "autochthonous" and burst into tears when the bee director signaled that he was correct.
In interviews after his victory, David said he had studied up to four hours on weekdays and six hours on weekends and said he had watched "Spellbound" at least 10 times.
Was this bee "as good as Hollywood can make it?" someone asked.
"It's even better," David said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company