May 13, 2017
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
YES, 21 young Fredericksburg-area students have the Sunshine Lady to thank for providing them the chance for a brighter future and a head start on their future academic and professional careers. But they also have themselves to thank for successfully becoming the first class of Gladys Todd Academy graduates.
The Sunshine Lady is, of course, Doris Buffett, the philanthropist whose foundation has touched the lives of a generation of people with programs and opportunities that they might not have otherwise experienced.
Buffett, who formerly lived in Fredericksburg, founded the Gladys Todd Academy with a five-year, $2 million gift to Germanna Community College that pays for these and future students to complete their associate’s degrees by the time they graduate from high school. The students worked incredibly hard, were aided by dedicated mentors and participated in cultural enrichment activities along the way. Of the first class of 21 students, 14 are from James Monroe High School and seven are from Spotsylvania High.
The students represent local communities that have faced academic challenges over the years, and this program has succeeded in nurturing the motivation they displayed two years ago to win acceptance into the academy’s inaugural class. All of the students have been recipients of free or reduced-price school meals. Some represent the first generation of their families to attend college.
Many of the students have already committed to extending their academic careers at four-year colleges and universities. One has been accepted to Princeton University, another to the U.S. Military Academy. The pride among these students is palpable, and there’s plenty to go around for their families and friends.
Each of these kids, along with all of the educators and volunteers who have helped them succeed—and certainly Doris Buffett—deserve a standing ovation.
When she initiated the academy, Buffett called it “a chance to revolutionize the way higher education engages young people.” She also called it “the most important thing I’m doing” in the Fredericksburg area.
That is saying something, considering the millions of dollars the Sunshine Lady Foundation has invested in local projects and causes: seven homes purchased for the chronically homeless through Micah Ecumenical Ministries; the Sunshine Lady House for Mental Health Wellness & Recovery; the Sunshine Ballpark and Educational Foundation; the Boys and Girls Club of Fredericksburg; the Doris E. Buffett Pool (formerly the Dixon Park Pool); the Prisoner Education Program (which sends Germanna instructors to teach at Coffeewood Correctional Center in Culpeper County).
It has always been Buffett’s hope that when her funding for continuing programs expires, the community will step up to keep them going. (Buffett is the sister of Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, whose BH Media properties include The Free Lance–Star.)
The Gladys Todd Academy could not be more appropriately named. Gladys Todd was a local teacher and lifelong civil rights advocate who died in 2015 at the age of 101. Her daughter, Gaye Todd Adegbalola, a musician and recording artist with the local band Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women, continues to lend her unflagging enthusiasm to the program.
“My mom is truly smiling down for the program to carry her name. She worked all her life for young people, particularly young black people,” Adegbalola said.
This community is smiling as well.
ON SIGNING DAY IN CAROLINE
While we’re at it, let’s give a National College Signing Day shout-out to the 109 Caroline High School seniors who will attend a two- or four-year college next fall. The number is up slightly over last year, when the school first participated in the event created by first lady Michelle Obama.
The fact that high school graduates everywhere will continue their schooling this fall is not news. What’s newsworthy is that many of them did not expect to or were not expected to go on to college. At some point along the way, they decided to defy expectations and make college a reality.
At Caroline High School, maybe National College Signing Day festivities will provide the realization to more students that they too can defy expectations and sign up for a brighter future.