The best and the brightest of Montgomery County's black high school seniors were honored last week by the Montgomery County chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. The group gave $800 scholarships to five graduating seniors: Alan C. Bowser and Melna G. Inge, Wheaton; Roderick A. Harper, Dickerson; and Karen L. Smith and Cynthia M. Webb, Silver Spring.
Ninety-two other seniors received special awards for academic achievement, the arts, athletics and citizenship in ceremonies held at Northwood High School, Silver Spring. Alpha Phi Alpha is active in the fields of education and county service.
The awards were presented, said Roscoe Nix, an Alpha Phi Alpha member and a former Montgomery school board member, because "black youths in a primarily white suburban setting often display talents which go unnoticed." To qualify, students filled out an application, wrote an essay on a black hero and were interviewed by a panel of fraternity members.The winners, who all had participated in student government and made good grades, are headed off next fall to colleges and universities.
Alan C. Bowser, who attends John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, said he learned about the scholarship through members of his church. He will attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania before pursuing a law degree. The combination, he reasons, will be "more marketable than just one or the other." In 10 years, he said, he would like to be "making a decent living, a very decent living."
Bowser is president of the countywide Council of Student Governments. He plays the French horn and, as a member of the D.C. Youth Orchestra, has played at Kennedy Center and the White House, and recently toured Japan.
A summer course in engineering sparked Melna G. Inge's interest and she has chosen a five-year program combining engineering and business at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.
"I figured five years for two degrees isn't all that bad," she said. The only child of two educators, Inge has been majorette team captain, ran track and participated in the Black Caucus at John F. Kennedy High.
Roderick A. Harper said he has been fascinated by computers from an early age and regularly practices on the terminal his father brings home from his job as a computer researcher at The National Institutes of Health. f
His scholarship money will help pay tuition at Cornell University next fall where he will study computer science. He is graduating from Poolesville High School.
Karen L. Smith had a difficult time choosing between medicine and law, but finally settled on medicine, possibily clinical research in embryology, she said. One of seven children, her father is a biologist at the National Institutes of Health. At Springbrook High School, Smith has participated in the minority-oriented Awareness Club and student government, and has been manager of the varsity basketball teams and prom chairperson. "I was trying to figure out why I was so busy," she laughed. She leaves for Duke University at the end of June for a summer transition program.
Cynthia M. Webb, who attends Paint Branch High School in Silver Spring, said she will attend Hood College in Frederick to study special education for handicapped children. Her activities have included being parliamentarian for the Montgomery County region of the Maryland Association Student Councils, singing in a choir and a madrigal group, coordinating an arts festival, registering students to vote and working on a bloodmobile.
Webb wrote about Harriet Tubman because "she is, in my view, one of the most important blacks as far as my life is concerned and since she's a woman, I just felt close to her."
Several winners said they would like to serve as examples for other black students. Harper said he would like to return to Montgomery County to show black students they should "strive to be more than a ballplayer or go into any number of careers instead of just wasting their lives."
"There are so many kids who don't want to learn, who are just trying to get by and don't want to do the work," said Bowser. "I would like to say 'Don't do that because in the long run, you'll pay dearly.'"