HomePlace-Based ForumGale Scholars Dream Big For Galesburg

Gale Scholars Dream Big For Galesburg

Even before the program for the 2012 Gale Scholars Induction Ceremony begun, in the hands of the parents of the new inductees were scattered,  glowing miniatures of the backdrop on recording devices held above the gathered crowd. The adult family members in the audience whispered excitedly and exchanged looks full of astonished pride.

The Gale Scholars Program selects fifteen eighth-grade students a year. Each applicant to the program must complete an application and be interviewed. To qualify to apply, each student must come from a first-generation-to-college or low-income family. If selected, students must maintain a minimum grade point average, perform community service and meet conduct requirements throughout their four years at Galesburg High School. Afterward, these students can attend two years at Carl Sandburg Community College or Knox College completely free of tuition.

Gale Scholars Saige Washington, Shakisha Grays and Mackenzie Cauthon speak about the community of Galesburg, Illinois, their own hopes and for their town. Recording by Emily Oliver.

“As a program director or as a parent, it is real easy for us to see what that goal is. But one of the things we have to recognize is that’s eight years away for an eighth grade student. And we’re mostly all honest with ourselves, when we were in eighth grade, would we have looked eight years down the road?”

Current Gale Scholars high school juniors Mackenzie Cauthon, 17, Shakisha Grays, 17, and Saige Washington, 17 seemed to have both developed an understanding of the important of this opportunity personal and what it means in the context of their community.

“Nobody wants their town to be a ghost town. They want it to stay lively,” says Cauthon about the town’s empty storefronts. 

All three young women expressed concern about the future of Galesburg, citing the lack of industry here and recent outbreaks of violence. While the economic problems here were certain apparent to the young ladies, so was the small town’s astounding history and quirky charm.  

“Like Knox [College] is well known for Abraham Lincoln’s speech … and that’s pretty interesting … that he was here even though it is a small town. And the Underground Railroad, there are some many connections through houses and stuff,” says  Grays.

The sense from these 17-year-old women was that they felt, in a small way, now part of the Galesburg’s history and certainly part of the solution to problems it faces. While they were all typical fun-loving teenagers, chatting about their classes, boyfriends and circle of buddies at school, the seriousness of that position and of the scope of their potential opportunity was in no way lost on them.

“Ever since I was little, that’s what my mom’s told me. You have to get your education in order to go far in life,” says Washington, a stern conviction in her voice.

Saige Washington hopes study education at Knox College, following in the footsteps of her aunt, who is a teacher and inspired by her experience of tutoring in the Gale Scholar summer program. Shakisha Grays plans to study biology with the intention of going into pediatric medicine so she can work with children. Mackenzie Cauthon plans to study economics and wants to work at a large, fast-paced corporation. Eventually, she hopes to bring more businesses back to her hometown.