As Sparkle Tyree watches daughter Dajá Tyree walk the Show Place Arena stage Wednesday as a Fairmont Heights High School graduate she'll remember how the senior almost didn't see that day.
Dajá, born 26 weeks premature, battled through heart defects and doctors told Sparkle Tyree her daughter would grow up with developmental delays, Sparkle Tyree said.
But the prognosis was off as Dajá Tyree, now 18, of Capitol Heights is not only going to college but on a four-year scholarship to Grinnell College in Iowa through the Posse Foundation. The New York-based foundation identifies students who excel academically and in extracurricular activities, but may be overlooked because of other factors such as low test scores.
"I just started screaming and yelling," Dajá said when she received the phone call in December that she was going to Grinnell in Grinnell, Iowa. "I was crying. We couldn't tell anyone yet."
She is also the first student to receive the Posse scholarship as a four-year graduate of the Hillside Work Scholarship Connection, a life and work skills mentoring program available at Central, Fairmont Heights and Suitland high schools.
Before she had even heard of Posse, Dajá Tyree said she researched Grinnell after seeing the pennant hang in former Fairmont Heights guidance counselor Ruth Owens' wall. Dajá said she envied its small size — approximately 1,600 students, according to the college’s website — and its psychology program, but knew it was a difficult school to get into because of its academic rigor.
Last summer, Tyree said Owens suggested she apply for the Posse Scholarship for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area where students like Dajá could attend six schools — one of them being Grinnell.
"That's you right there Dajá, that's you," Tyree remembers saying to herself. "There's something about that school."
Education at Grinnell is valued at $49,000 per year, totaling $196,000 for four years and Tyree said she will be responsible for paying for room and board which she said is estimated at $9,000 per year.
Tyree said she wants to major in child psychology and become an art therapist.
"I think there are more ways to express yourself than just to talk," Tyree said. "They say a picture is worth a thousand words."
She said she has an interest in working with children because she’s the older sibling to two brothers and a sister.
Hillside team manager Desiree Ramseur said she wasn't surprised Tyree got the scholarship even though she described it as a "very rigorous" process with several interviews on top of Dajá applying for college and still running track.
Ramseur credits Tyree’s grandparents Jackie and Thomas Tyree for pushing her through the Posse process and Ramseur said she's seen Tyree grow within the Hillside program and give back to the community through service such as clothing drives or national nonprofit Dreams For Kids where she spent the day in a boat with children with disabilities.
"She's been an example to other students in the program," Ramseur said. "She's a very strong and determined young lady who goes after her goals full force and doesn't let anything stand in her way.”
Sparkle Tyree said her daughter has been a "fighter" ever since she was an infant and that she knew she was determined to be great.
"I always tell her that I see her working for a nonprofit organization feeding hungry children in Africa," Sparkle Tyree said. "I see her traveling. I don't know exactly what she's going to do but I see her helping."