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Saturday, March 25, 2006
Scholarship win 'a gift for father'


Arriving in North Carolina in the spring semester of his sophomore High School year in 2004, Raj Persaud , a native of Guyana admitted he was “overwhelmed at first” in acclimating to American culture.
Two years later the youngest child of Charlie and Mohinie Persaud is only the fourth Clayton High School student ever to receive the -Morehead Scholarship -the most prestigious college scholarship offered in the state of North Carolina.

When Clayton High School senior Raj Persaud asked his father what he wanted for his birthday on March 8, Charlie Persaud replied, “The only thing I want is for you to get the Morehead Scholarship. ”

The younger Persaud said, “I felt like asking him, ‘Couldn’t I just go to Wal-Mart and pick you up a pair of new socks?’ ”

It turns out that Plan B won’t be necessary. The youngest child of Charlie and Mohinie Persaud found out – fittingly enough on March 8 – that he had become only the fourth CHS student ever to receive the most prestigious college scholarship offered in the state of North Carolina. He is one of just two Johnston County students to earn the scholarship this year, along with Emily Carter of South Johnston High School.

“I’m still in shock,” Persaud said. “I’m expecting Ashton Kutcher (star of “That 70s Show” and “Punked”) to walk through the door any second and tell me I’ve been punked.”

The Morehead Scholarship, named after long-time University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill benefactor John Motley Morehead, was instituted in 1957. The four-year scholarship, valued at approximately $80,000 for in-state and $140,000 for out-of-state students, covers all undergraduate college expenses, including the cost of a laptop computer and four summer enrichment experiences.

Persaud is one of 53 high school seniors in the United States and Great Britain to be chosen for the scholarship this year. A total of 1,620 applied.

CHS guidance counselor Pam Savage, who recommended Persaud for the honor, said, “Raj is the quintessential Morehead Scholar. If he hadn’t gotten it, I’m not sure we’d ever have another one who’d qualify.”

Persaud said, “It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever dreamed of, and my biggest accomplishment. I feel that way because of the potential this gives me to do so much good, to utilize all my talent and skills to make a positive impact on society – the capacity to do that is tremendous.”

By all accounts, Persaud already has had a major impact on Clayton High School in just the two and a half years he has been a student.

Arriving in the spring semester of his sophomore year in 2004, the native of Guyana (by way of a short stay in Lakeland, Fla.) admitted he was “overwhelmed at first” in acclimating to American culture.

“My dad came here because his church (Faith Community) offered him a job,” Persaud said. “It was a bit of culture shock, but I realized very quickly I had to take charge of my future.”

He credits his father’s life-long devotion to missionary work and education (Charlie Persaud served as principal of a school in Guyana for rural students) and his mother’s losing battle with cancer (Sewranie Persaud died when Raj was 7 years old) for shaping his own social consciousness and activism.

“Everyone I have met has had an influence on me, but if I had to list who has had the most, it would be my dad,” Persaud said.

“Growing up, watching his amazing service to others, and the sacrifices he and my mom (Mohinie) made to move here and provide me and my older sisters an education in this country – I think getting this scholarship helps repay them for those sacrifices.”

Savage said, “Raj has always been very community-focused. He jumped right in when he got here and founded Teens Changing the World. To him, there is nothing too little to do to get people to think about others.”

Teens Changing the World is a service club whose members engage in a variety of activities to provide community assistance, including visiting senior citizens’ homes, collecting hats for cancer victims who have lost hair due to chemotherapy and encouraging diversity in the high school through “Mix It Up Day,” when students spent lunch sitting with strangers.

In addition to founding that club, Persaud also is president of the Interact Club; creator and Web manager for Inspiration4All, an Internet chat group that offers aid to suicidal teenagers; and a board member of the Youth Council of North Carolina on HIV Awareness.

As part of that group, Persaud organized and sponsored several AIDS awareness sessions in his native country of Guyana, for which he was awarded the Governor’s Award for HIV/AIDS as Youth Volunteer of the Year.

A straight-A student with a 5.04 grade-point average, Persaud has been on the Principal’s List (for maintaining an A average in all subjects) his entire high school career. He has earned AP Scholar with Honor recognition, been named a Quest Bridge College Match Finalist, received an Editor’s Choice award and recognition as a 2004 Youth Poet by Youth Voice Newsletter for his writings, and has served as a school ambassador to the National Youth Parliament in Guyana.

Along with the Governor’s Award for his involvement with HIV/AIDS education, Persaud also has earned selection to attend the Rotary Club Youth Leadership Awards Conference and the state Catalyst Conference for Youth Leaders.

He also was the district and state winner of the Rotary Against Drugs Speech Competition in 2005.
Persaud hopes to pursue a degree in biology (his favorite subject) with a secondary concentration in public policy.

His long-term goal is to become an oncologist – a specialist in cancer research and treatment – as a result of his mother’s experience with the disease.

“That was a tough learning experience,” he said. “But going through it gave me the desire to help others go through it and support them.”

Persaud said that social awareness and motivation is what most attracted him to Chapel Hill – even though he remains a candidate for scholarships at Harvard and Yale universities, as well as the Robert-son Scholarship, a combined grant to both UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University.

He expects to accept the Morehead by the April 14 notification deadline.

“Winning this (the Morehead) is giving me the opportunity to really do something meaningful,” he said. “I feel I’ve been given the skills and motivation to lead others, to allow them to see their potential to do good and help people live lives of dignity.

“The atmosphere at UNC, I feel, really helps drive you to be more productive, and the Morehead is a wonderful tool to do something that will have a tremendous positive impact,” he said.

Persaud is the first CHS student to earn the Morehead Scholarship since Natalie Sanders in 1999. He and fellow CHS senior Alex Wiedemann, who was named two week ago as a Parks Scholarship winner to North Carolina State University, are the first CHS students ever to receive the Parks and Morehead scholarships in the same graduating class.

CHS Principal Jerry Smith said, “This is a tremendous honor for the school and, particularly, for this senior class. They have been an exceptional group ever since entering the school, and these scholarships reflect the character and achievement this class has demonstrated all along.”

From Clayton News-Star