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Profiles on President Barack Obama Scholars

May 10, 2009

Following are profiles of a few of the first class of President Barack Obama Scholars:

Raynetta Brown

Despite the odds against her, Raynetta Brown has always been determined to succeed.  She lives with her mother and is the third of four children.  She will be the first of her siblings to graduate from high school and also hopes to be the first one to graduate from college.

If her high school record is any indication of success, Raynetta will definitely accomplish her educational goals.  A senior at South Mountain High School, she will graduate as valedictorian with a 3.96 GPA.  In addition to her academics, she has excelled in sports as a member of the softball team and cheer squad.

Raynetta will enter Arizona State University in the fall as a psychology major and participate in the inaugural class of President Barack Obama Scholars.  She says, “I know I have to stay focused on my goals.  I want to go to college and won’t let anything get in my way.  I look forward to attending ASU and am honored to be a part of the Obama Scholars Program.”

Annalili Chacon

A native of Guadalupe, Annalili Chacón is the youngest of four children and comes from a family dedicated to education.  A senior at Tempe’s Marcos de Niza High School with a 3.9 GPA, she dreams of graduating from the WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.  As an inaugural recipient of the President Barack Obama Scholarship, Annalili is one step closer to realizing that dream.

Annalili’s family has instilled in her a strong sense of community and giving back.  In addition to her business career, she will make it a priority to give back to her community by serving as a role model for the younger generations of Guadalupanos who aspire to achieve a higher education.

During high school she has volunteered organizing activities for children at the East Valley Boys and Girls Club in Guadalupe and the Escalante Center in Tempe.  One of her most memorable volunteer experiences was working at the Democratic Party Office in Tempe during the 2008 presidential election.  Although she was not old enough to vote at that time, Annalili was energized by the campaign and excited to be part of an historical election.  She has since turned 18, registered to vote, and is excited about participating in the next election.

In the meantime, Annalili will begin her pursuit of higher education at ASU in the fall. On selecting a university she says, “It is very important to me that ASU prides itself in its policies to promote equal opportunities for all genders, races and ethnicities.”

Lysandra Frey

Lysandra Frey was a typical sophomore in high school; she studied hard and participated in extracurricular activities.  Then one day her father passed away unexpectedly.  Shortly thereafter her grades began to slip and she had trouble sleeping.

Fortunately her teachers noticed and supported her by talking with her and encouraging her to focus on her academics.  It worked.  This spring she will graduate from Mesa’s Skyline High School with a 3.39 GPA.

The next chapter in her life will take her to Arizona State University where she will study biological sciences as a President Barack Obama Scholar.  She hopes to one day work in the field of forensics solving crimes.

In planning for college Lysandra knew that finances would be an issue as her mom was now the only source of income for Lysandra and her younger sister.  She worked diligently applying for financial aid and scholarships.  

Upon hearing about being a President Barack Obama Scholar she said, “Knowing that I won’t have to worry about paying for school or housing on campus is a great relief.  It is an incredible honor to be a part of this program.”

George Khalaf

George Khalaf was born in Lebanon and came to the United States when his parents fled the civil war in their country in 1996; George was five years old.  Although he was a young boy and doesn’t have many memories of that time, he is very proud of his heritage.  In his native country educational goals are difficult to achieve so he appreciates the opportunities he has as a U.S. citizen.

This appreciation for education has prompted him to work hard in school and it has paid off; He will graduate this spring from Dobson High School with a 3.79 GPA.  In addition to being a scholar, George is also a leader.  He was a member of Valley Teen Leadership Class XI and continues to volunteer and train young leaders through the organization.  

In the fall he will continue his educational journey and begin studying political science and finance at Arizona State University.  While George has always known that college was in his future, he wasn’t sure how he would pay for it.  As a President Barack Obama Scholar, financing his education is no longer a concern.

He says, “I am grateful to be a part of the President Barack Obama Scholars Program as I will have the opportunity to further my knowledge and education at ASU without having to be worried about finances.”

Yobani Mejia-Lopez

Yobani Mejia-Lopez is a resilient young man who has overcome many obstacles. An orphan at the age of 8, his grandparents have raised him in a household of eleven.  He currently works part-time to assist his family with household expenses.  

A senior at Mesa’s Westwood High School, Yobani was actively involved in sports until a heart illness prevented him from playing last year.  After undergoing emergency heart surgery, he returned to school after a two-month absence.  Although he was no longer able to participate in sports, Yobani focused his energy on academics and will now graduate with a 3.25 GPA.  

The next phase of his life will take him to Arizona State University where he will major in biochemistry with an ultimate goal of becoming a dentist.  Yobani was influenced by his first dental visit in the United States at the age of 9 and since then has continued to have conversations with his dentist about this career choice.  He says, “I want to do something with my life that I will enjoy and I think that giving people pretty smiles will make me happy.”

Despite the challenges he has faced throughout his life, Yobani is determined to earn his bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University.  The President Barack Obama Scholarship will be instrumental in assisting him to achieving that goal.  He says, “The Obama Scholarship is a great blessing for me and my family.  With this scholarship I know I can be successful and accomplish my goals and turn my dreams into reality.”

Byron Smithson

Byron Smithson has had to grow up rather quickly.  At the age of 14, both of his parents passed away within three weeks of each other.  He now lives with his four siblings and his two older brothers are raising the younger ones.  As the middle child he has had to take on additional familial responsibilities.

In addition to these responsibilities, Byron has made it a priority to do well and be active in school.  A member of his school’s lacrosse and DECA teams, he will graduate from Chandler High School with a 3.0 GPA and begin his studies at Arizona State University in the fall.  He chose ASU because of the strong business programs in the WP Carey School of Business and hopes to major in marketing and entrepreneurship with a goal of starting his own business with his brother.

Unlike his older brother, Byron did not have the assistance of his mother when it came to applying to college and scholarships.  Fortunately he had counselors and ASU staff members to assist him with every step of the way.  Having the President Barack Obama Scholarship means that he will have the opportunity to attend college without worrying about how he will pay for it.  Byron says, “If it weren’t for the Obama Scholarship, I would not be going to ASU.”