Quaanzale Thompson is a loner no more. In fact, the 17-year-old Dorchester resident will be joining a posse of scholars at Denison University in Granville, Ohio in the fall.
After a competitive selection and intensive interview process, The Posse Foundation selected Thompson as one of its recipients of a four-year, full tuition leadership scholarship late last year. Over the years, nearly 40 first-rate universities, including Bucknell, Bryn Mawr, Centre, Denison, Hamilton and Union, have partnered with the Foundation and have awarded more than $265 million in full tuition scholarships.
The Foundation provides students excelling in public high school with an opportunity for a quality college education. The idea behind The Posse is relatively simple and recognizes that life on upscale university campuses is all too often a culture shock for students from low-income urban neighborhoods.
Posse founder Deborah Bial started the organization in 1989 after a once-promising inner-city student told her, “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.”
Under the program, students headed to the same universities are placed in posses of about 10 that begin meeting in high school. The meetings continue weekly at college, creating tight-knit groups where members can find motivation or comfort when they feel lost or frustrated.
When Thompson was notified that he was nominated for The Posse Foundation Scholarship, he says his initial reaction was that there were others who were more qualified. It took him a while, but Thompson has come to believe that he is a deserving recipient and looks forward to having the support network with him at college, especially as he moves away from the familiarity of home.
“This is amazing,” he said of his opportunity to attend college tuition-free at Denison University.
Things did not always look so bright for Thompson. The senior at Brook Farm Business & Service Career Academy in West Roxbury says he has come a long way. Born with a hearing loss in both ears, Thompson was given a curriculum based on federal guidelines for students with disabilities. “All throughout elementary and middle school I saw my potential,” Thompson said. “I hated being treated like I was different when I was capable of doing far more.”
When he reached high school, Thompson says he requested to be taken out of the small classes as required under the Individual Education Plan and mainstreamed into general ed classes.
“Since then, I’ve been fine,” he said. “The only time I really remember I have a hearing loss is when I ‘m not looking at the person speaking to me and they’re speaking low.”
However, Thompson admits that he was a shy kid growing up and uses the word “loner” to describe himself when he first entered Brook Farm Academy as a freshman.
During his sophomore year Thompson decided to join the track team as a way to open up and meet new people, but shortly thereafter was ready to give up because he felt he “wasn’t as good as everyone else.” The seniors were bigger, faster and stronger. “I had that feeling of being behind, not being with the rest of the group,” Thompson said.
At the same time, Thompson was also struggling with his studies. He says it was only after he made a conscious effort to change his attitude that things started to turn around and got him on the right path again. Thompson developed this motto for himself: Work hard now and play later.
The motto is working in his favor as he’s learned to balance a demanding class schedule — AP Calculus, AP Government, economics, financial planning and humanities — with track practice, tutoring youth and community service work. Somehow he finds a way to get it all done, even if that means waking up at the crack of dawn.
Thompson says the key to his success in high school has been time management and developing “positive relationships with many different people.” He also credits his mother with instilling a good work ethic in him at a young age. “She always tried to stick in my head that if I don’t graduate high school, there’s nothing much to do.”
His mother’s message has stuck with him through the years. Now, only a few months away from graduation, Thompson is excited and has big plans for his future. Though he has not selected a field of study just yet, he is thinking of majoring in biology. “It’s broad so you can pursue many different types of careers,” he said. One career option he is exploring is becoming a veterinarian. He also has aspirations to become an author and is already penning a memoir, 53 pages of which already have been completed.
It took Thompson some time, but he says that he has found his voice and is now much more comfortable in his skin. For those students who consider themselves “loners” like Thompson once did or for those who are struggling in the classroom right now, Thompson urges them to let their fears go, open up and meet new people.
It also helps, Thompson says, to have a posse.