Marquis Johnson remembers being 10 years old, with his mother serving in the military in Iraq, and protecting his brothers and sisters in his locked bedroom while his father partied with strangers outside.
With strength garnered from the PEOPLE (Pre-College Enrichment Opportunities Program for Learning Excellence) Program and his mother, Johnson, a student at Lakeland Union High School in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, is on course to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earn his degree.
“Now I know I have company on my path,” he told those in attendance at the July 29 PEOPLE Recognition Banquet. “It taught me to never give up. … I cannot wait to graduate from UW-Madison, give my mother my diploma and thank her for all that she has done.”
The banquet at the Madison Marriot West celebrated 138 high school seniors arriving on the threshold of college and 87 UW-Madison freshmen who have gone through the pre-college portion of the PEOPLE Program. The program started with 66 Milwaukee high school students in 1999 and 92 Madison middle-school students in 2000.
Many students gave testimonials and performances during the event.
PEOPLE Executive Director Jacqueline DeWalt thanked the parents, stepparents, godparents, guardian parents and all the adults in the students’ lives for “trusting us for the last three to five years.”
From second-graders in Madison’s PEOPLE Prep program to high schoolers in Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Waukesha and Wisconsin’s tribal nations, PEOPLE engages more than 1,300 underserved Wisconsin youth, most of whom are the first in their families to attend college. “Our goal is not to get them to college, but to get them through, with degrees,” DeWalt told the gathering.
The program is working. PEOPLE scholars, who come from economically challenged and minority backgrounds, boast a 100 percent high school graduation rate, compared with a 70.2 percent four-year graduation rate for minority students across Wisconsin and a 57.6 percent four-year graduation rate for minority students across all Milwaukee Public Schools in 2009-10.
This year, 104 PEOPLE students were offered admission to UW-Madison, and 87 accepted. Ninety-five percent of the graduates continue their educations beyond high school, and 70 percent attend UW System campuses. PEOPLE, administered through the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, this year saw its first participant graduate from the UW-Madison Law School and its first admission into the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
The honorees, their families, staff members, campus and corporate supporters, and interested friends heard from program participants like Johnson, Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Damon Williams, Interim UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward and Ada Deer, a member of the Menominee Nation, emerita Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs and emerita UW-Madison faculty member. They also experienced student musical, dance and spoken word performances.
Ward was chancellor when the PEOPLE Program came into being. “It was part of a major change in how we were going to approach diversity, engage diversity and make it a serious commitment of the institution,” he said. “I cannot tell you how pleased I am to see the way in which the program has flourished and fulfilled itself.”
I cannot wait to graduate from UW-Madison, give my mother my diploma and thank her for all that she has done.
Deer, who graduated from UW-Madison in 1957, encouraged the students to look outside their current interests and circle of friends to engage the wider world. She talked about growing up on the Menominee Reservation in a log cabin with no water and no electricity. “We didn’t have a lot of things, but we were rich in spirit. Everyone can be rich in spirit no matter what your background,” she said.
“A great many people have invested in you,” Deer added. “You need to pay back part of that investment by reaching out to others. There is no greater joy than in knowing that you have helped your fellow man, your fellow person.”
Five inaugural Keystone Awards were presented to PEOPLE individual and corporate supporters. Receiving awards were:
- Individual Keystone Award: Dr. Edwin Ferguson, who has made 94 regular gifts to the program since 2003.
- Community Keystone Award: Carmen Porco of the Northport and Packers Learning Centers, which have been serving elementary school students on Madison’s North Side.
- Corporate Keystone Award: Dextra Hadnot, AT&T Wisconsin, which has supported PEOPLE with more than $1 million since 1999.
- Corporate Keystone Award :Maria Bundy, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation, which is undertaking the first replication of the PEOPLE Program outside of the University through Cardinal Stritch University and the Green Tree Teutonia Community Learning Center in Milwaukee.
- Corporate Keystone Award: Judy Lowell, American Family Insurance, a continuous donor since 2002 and a site for PEOPLE summer interns.
Kohl’s Department Stores, in conjunction with the UW-Madison School of Human Ecology, honored five PEOPLE College Scholars with financial awards. Winning the scholarships were Willie Sinclair III, $4,000; Kimberly Baily, $4,000; Arturo “Tito” Diaz, $1,000; Jasmine Bradley-Wilson, $1,000; and Kara Coates, $1,000.
Other supporters of PEOPLE include CUNA Mutual Group; the Wisconsin Alumni Association; Badger Meter, Inc.; the British Petroleum Company; the Cargill Foundation; Dane County Credit Union; Deere & Company; the Evjue Foundation. Inc.; H&M Distributing Company; Evan and Marion Helfaer Foundation; Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Hewlett-Packard Company; Dorothy Inbusch Foundation, Inc.; Joy Global Foundation; Kimberly Clark Corporation; Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation; Midwest Affordable Housing Management Association; Northwestern Mutual Foundation; Procter & Gamble; Rockwell Automation; Target; U.S. Bank; U.S. Department of Agriculture and Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C.
The annual Recognition Banquet is sponsored by AT&T, CUNA Mutual Group and the Wisconsin Alumni Association.