The first recipients of the I Am Scholarship. (via Oprah.com)
Oprah is constantly encouraging us all to simply do what we can to help one another. Read to a child, help a neighbor with a ride, or donate money to a worthwhile cause — it all goes a long way in helping each other and our communities. When Grammy winner and Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.I.Am looked inside and asked what we could do, he decided to start a scholarship fund.
The I Am Scholarship was introduced on the May 5, 2009 episode of Oprah. He’d approached Oprah’s girlfriend Gayle King and let her know he wanted to send one kid to college, with some extra cash he’d made DJing. He wanted to help a student who had a similar background to him — growing up in the home of a single mom. Oprah’s team worked with Gayle to send him the names of four students who would meet and exceed his expectations.
When faced with making a decision, Will.I.Am simply decided to put all four boys through college, as the first recipients of the I Am Scholarship.
“I want to invest in America’s future, and I want to send you guys to college,” announced the benefactor to the four college-bound students.
Jaiquann, Elijah, and twins Barien and Darien were at a loss for words when they learned that their dreams of attending college would be financed in full. The scholarship will pay for four years of tuition, books and room and board. Will.I.Am only asks that they succeed, show the world they are the future, and “prove that single parents are the strongest people on the planet.”
No doubt these high school seniors are up for the task. They have outstanding academic records at Christiana High School in Delaware, where they are also track stars and work jobs to help support their single mothers. It’s the kind of foundation that helped them each land a place with the freshman class at their dream universities — Barien learned on the show that he’ll be attending Hampton University, while Jaiquann will attend Cabrini College, Elijah will attend Wilmington University and Darien will attend Virginia Tech.
Before the scholarship surprise they’d each given up that they’d be able to attend due to the financial burden. “When I got accepted there, I was actually pretty stoked and excited,” Jaiquann says. “But when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to afford it, it just pretty much saddened me.”
Elijah echoed the sentiment when he said “I just don’t really talk about it and don’t really acknowledge it enough because I don’t really see it coming true.”
Oprah said that in the past 25 years the cost of tuition has risen 439% and is three times the cost of living. It’s a cost more than half of American families can’t afford to pay.