‘We Couldn’t Be More Proud’: 6 Washington High School Students Admitted To Georgia Tech

Washington High School students, from left, Ayomide Ayeni, Yusef Abdul-Hakim, Makenzie Hornsby, Darling Hernandez and Derek Gabriel found out Friday they've been accepted to Georgia Tech.
Washington High School students, from left, Ayomide Ayeni, Yusef Abdul-Hakim, Makenzie Hornsby, Darling Hernandez and Derek Gabriel found out Friday they've been accepted to Georgia Tech.
Credit Martha Dalton / WABE

Six students from Atlanta’s Washington High School found out Friday they were accepted to Georgia Tech. That would be a feat for any school, but it is especially notable for Washington, which serves a high poverty population.

A Clever Ruse

Georgia Tech admissions officers came to the school Friday afternoon and told the students they had to endure one last interview before acceptance letters would be issued Saturday. The students sat side-by-side at a table in the school’s media center and answered several questions.

Then Ellery Kirkconnell, a senior admissions counselor, surprised them.

“One thing I do have for you is your letters,” Kirkconnell said, referencing their acceptance letters. “I can give you your letters today if you want. Do you want them today?”

The students seemed a little nervous but agreed to open the letters in front of their families and some school staff. Family members and teachers broke out in cheers and applause once the students realized they’d all been accepted.

Washington is a small high school just west of the Atlanta University Center. It’s the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater. According to state data, 71 percent of Washington students are economically disadvantaged.

Washington principal Dr. Tashara Wilson says there are about 130 students in the senior class. That means almost 5 percent of the class was admitted to Georgia Tech. According to Kirkconnell, the university received 37,000 applications this year and accepted about 2,000 students for regular admission.

Officials from Georgia Tech and Washington High School contacted Khalaya Dean via Skype on Friday to let her know she’d been accepted to the university. She was attending a robotics competition at the time. (Martha Dalton/WABE)

Five of the Washington acceptees were in attendance Friday: Yusef Abdul-Hakim, Derek Gabriel, Darling Hernandez, Ayomide Ayeni and Makenzie Hornsby. The sixth student, Khalaya Dean, was at a robotics competition. The crowd gave her the news via Skype.

Dean doubled over in excitement when she found out. However, she’s already been accepted to 50 colleges, collecting $3.5 million in scholarship offers.

Pursuing A Passion

Ayeni and Hornsby both want to go into the health care field. They say that’s because of a summer program they completed through the Morehouse School of Medicine. The initiative essentially trains students to be home health care workers.

“Having that experience with people and communities where health resources aren’t necessarily available and just the lack of knowledge thereof, it’s like, ‘OK, this is for me.’ I just knew I had to give back in some sort of way,” Hornsby said.

Hornsby is the class valedictorian. So she’ll get a free ride to Georgia Tech, thanks to the APS scholars program. The plan guarantees a full scholarship to Georgia Tech for any Atlanta Public Schools student who gains admission and is either class valedictorian or salutatorian.

Ayeni has taken advantage of a state program called dual enrollment. He’s taken college-level courses at Atlanta Metropolitan College and says he’ll enter Georgia Tech as a junior.

“I always wanted to have a degree in bioengineering to be able to do something with creating prosthetics for people and kind of mixing that both engineering and medical fields together with Georgia Tech … it’s the place to be,” Ayeni said. “I’m really proud to join them.”

Wilson, the school principal, beamed with pride.

“These students have worked so hard to receive admission into one of the best institutions in the state of Georgia, and we couldn’t be more proud of these six scholars,” she said.

Mackenzie’s mother, Philathea Hornsby, said she was accepted to Georgia Tech but didn’t attend. She was emotional watching her daughter get the same opportunity.

“Don’t make me cry,” she said. “I’m proud of her. I really am. She’s worked hard, since the beginning.”

The students have until May 1 to decide whether they’ll attend Georgia Tech.