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Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 2:20pm

Georgia Students Honored As Gates Scholars

This year, 89 Georgia high school students are recipients of The Gates Millenium Scholars Program, providing them with a full-ride education.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda established the program in 1999. An online site that tracks such things says Gates’ net worth is comfortably north of $70 billion.

The scholars are chosen from minority groups. With the help of nominators, each must write rigorous essays about the hardships they’ve faced and how he or she plans to give back to their community in the future. Anything the student chooses to pursue as an undergraduate is covered.

Beyond that, Gates will continue to bankroll their education if they stick to a list of community-oriented disciplines: computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health, or science. The idea is to not only help underserved kids by-pass some big hurdles, but to encourage them to build a stronger future.

In Gwinnett County, a record 15 students are among the 2014 Gates Millennium Scholars. They include three from Meadowcreek High School, in Norcross.

Caridad Milanes and her mother came from Santo Domingo. She’s a laser-sharp young lady who knows exactly how the next decade or two of her life will unfold. First up: courses in political science at Georgia State University. Then, she plans to transfer to Emory University for undergraduate courses preparing her for medical school. Ultimately, Caridad says she will practice medicine back in the Dominican Republic, offering affordable service to struggling people.

Jonathan Peraza says he’s living the American dream for his mother, who has struggled to raise him since his father left. At the age of ten, Jonathan says he “grew up very fast” and became the man of the house. That household moved frequently as his mom, a native of El Salvador, chased one job after another. Now, Jonathan plans to use the Gates funding to get a degree from Emory. From there, he plans to go to Columbia to get his master’s in education and maybe one day a doctorate.

Then there is Nabilah Khanan, who is American-born to Bangladeshi immigrants. She served as the family’s translator, even taking on the household books, helping to ward off foreclosure. If that weren’t enough for one girl, she also had to confront bullying. She says the boys in middle school would come up behind her, laugh, and rip off the hijab she wore to honor her Muslim roots. Nabilah’s only plan for revenge is to succeed at life. She’s focused on becoming a biomedical engineer, with stops at Georgia State University and possibly Georgia Tech.

All three remarkable teens have a remarkable mentor -- Coach Anthony Rainge. Make that “Dr. Coach Rainge.” The son of cotton field workers, Rainge says his mother never got past eighth grade. Throughout his life, Rainge has taken on every educational challenge in pursuit of excellence, earning degrees in law and journalism plus a master’s in divinity. From learning math on an abacus, Rainge now eagerly accepts the long hours that go with shepherding students through the Gates process.

Rainge refers to his latest Gates Scholars in glowing terms: Caridad is “tenacious,” Jonathan “resilient,” and Nabilah’s work ethic as “awesome.” He bemoans America’s flagging academic standing on the world stage, but says kids like these are going to bring us back.

So, while Bill Gates is worth billions, a good chunk of that money is going to help students here in Georgia and nationwide earn a new tomorrow for America.