Boston Latin grad from Grove Hall earns Yale scholarship

By 
Ariel Bailey, Special to the Reporter
Jun. 23, 2011

Shawnna ThomasShawnna ThomasDorchester’s Shawnna Thomas, a Boston Latin Academy graduate, will be attending Yale University this September thanks to a Gates Millennium Scholarship.

Thomas, who graduated from Boston Latin on Sunday, has been granted a full scholarship to Yale, for her undergraduate through graduate studies. She currently lives with her grandmother near Grove Hall. Thomas has known since her childhood that she wanted to attend college, and it was, in part, thanks to her participation in the Steppingstone Foundation’s after-school programs that she was able to fulfill this ambition.

The Steppingstone Foundation is a non-profit organization aimed at helping the youth in urban schools, through extra-curricular academic programs, in order to land them in public exam or independent schools. It supports students, grades 5 through 12, by providing after school and summer educational and counseling support programs.

Thomas applied to join the Steppingstone Academy, a 14-month long academic program offered by the Foundation, as she was finishing her fifth grade at Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan. After the Steppingstone Foundation’s presentation at her elementary school, she decided to undergo the two summers of Steppingstone lessons, not to mention a whole year of after school and Saturday tutoring in addition to her regular school classes. The hard work paid off with her acceptance to the Boston Latin Academy.

At the Academy, Thomas studied reading, writing, arithmetic and Latin. She was involved in several clubs, being leader of the Classics Club, and a member of the Debate Team, the Certamen Team (a form of ‘Jeopardy’ focused on Roman and Greek languages, histories, facts and cultures) and the Girls Group. Thomas also spent time outside of school tutoring elementary and middle school students through 826 Boston Inc., a non-profit organization aimed at giving 6 to 18 year olds after school educational services. Her high achievements and widespread involvement with peers has earned her this esteemed scholarship offered by Yale.

The Gates Millennium Scholarship’s purpose is to offer the opportunity to excel at Yale to hard-working and academically successful minority students with important financial needs. It will cover tuition for both her undergraduate and graduate studies. In addition, all school expenses, such as books, school residency and other services provided by Yale will be taken care of by the scholarship.

“I always wanted to go to college, but I always worried I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” she said. “Yale is an amazing school, being accepted is a dream come true.”

Thomas plans to major in Classics and Women and Gender Studies, while also studying languages such as Thai, Russian and Italian in preparation for her to attend Yale’s law school and obtain joint business and law degrees. Her desire is to eventually open a non-profit organization to protect victims of sex trafficking and illegal prostitution.

Thomas’ interest in helping the victims of forced prostitution was first inspired by watching a documentary on sex trafficking victims. After informing herself on the role that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in this field play in the victims’ lives, Thomas realized thatshe would like to concentrate on helping victims recuperate from the trauma of the ordeal.

“I realized most of these NGOs were focused on stopping human trafficking, which I totally agreed with, but fewer were focused on the actual victims of human trafficking after the fact.”