The story of Jahmiah Guillory, a Penn State Greater Allegheny student from Northview Heights, may well be the quintessential narrative that city leaders envisioned when they pitched the idea of the Pittsburgh Promise two years ago.
They gave him a standing ovation Thursday during a ceremony at O'Reilly Theater, Downtown, where fund officials announced that they raised $11.3 million in the 2009-10 school year.
The scholarship, which offers $20,000 toward college costs for district graduates who meet certain requirements, was established to help revitalize the city and its schools.
Its fundraising efforts will also yield about $7.6 million in a matching grant from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, bringing the total funds raised to about $19 million said Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise.
The $11.3 million fell short of the goal of raising $15 million, which would have leveraged $10 million rather than $7.6 million from UPMC.
The fund has a goal of raising $250 million by June 2018. UPMC, which staked $100 million to help start the scholarship, has committed up to $10 million in matching funds to the scholarship annually.
By his own estimation, Mr. Guillory, 19, was a lackluster student at Pittsburgh Oliver High School. He never cared for school, much less what he would do after high school.
"All I wanted to do was hang out with the popular crowd at school. Outside school, I just worried about making money to help me deal with family pressures at home," he said.
The second eldest of seven children, the idea of college didn't even cross his mind. For one thing, he knew that his 1.75 grade point average would get him nowhere in college admissions. Like many young black men in Pittsburgh, he said, he had resigned himself to a life of chronic unemployment, poverty and maybe even crime.
That was until the start of his senior year, when Mr. Ghubril spoke to Mr. Guillory's class and told him college was still an option if he applied himself. The Pittsburgh Promise would offer him a scholarship, but to qualify he would have to raise his GPA from 1.75 to 2.25 in one year.
And that's just what Mr. Guillory did, by attaining straight A's. He would graduate with a 2.28 GPA in 2009, receiving a provisional acceptance to Penn State's McKeesport campus. There, he carries a 3.65 GPA and would like to major in engineering with a concentration on petroleum and natural gas extraction.
Established with twin objectives of helping to stop the city's population loss by giving parents an incentive to keep their children in the city schools and to spur high school and college graduation rates in the city, Mr. Guillory's story served as an inspiring anecdote to city and business leaders who said they hope the scholarship will continue to help revitalize Pittsburgh.
The prevailing sentiment among the city, school and business leaders, including Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, was that the Pittsburgh Promise -- still in its infancy -- may be partly why the city is standing on the precipice of an economic revival in which Pittsburgh will not only stop losing residents, but start gaining them.
Grant Oliphant, president of the Pittsburgh Foundation, described it as "an incredible moment to be living in Pittsburgh."
And with the Pittsburgh Promise, Mr. Ghubril said, the narrative of the moment is "live in our city, attend our schools and we will send [your children] to college."
For Sarah and Melissa Walsh, the scholarship made the difference between attending the four-year college of their choice or going to a two-year community college because of the cost.
As the Brookline sisters neared high school graduation, they worried that their parents could not afford to foot the bill for both of them at four-year schools.
"I had the grades and I really wanted to go to a four-year school, but I also knew that was something my parents may not have been able to do on their own," said Sarah Walsh, 20.
She breathed a sigh of relief when the Pittsburgh Promise was launched the year before she graduated, she said. "I knew then that I would be able to go the school of my choice without taking enormous student loan debt."
She is now a junior at Robert Morris University, where she is majoring in marketing and is a member of the rowing team.
Melissa, her 18-year-old sister, who graduated from Brashear this year, has been accepted to Penn State Altoona, where she plans on pursuing either nursing or becoming a nutritionist.
Since its inception, the Pittsburgh Promise has offered 1,690 scholarships.
And with the recently graduated class of 2010, the scholarship plans to add 750 students. In 2009, recipients had to maintain a 2.25 grade point average and an 85 percent school attendance record. In 2010, the requirement will be a 2.5 grade point average and a 90 percent attendance rate.
Mr. Ravenstahl said the story of the Pittsburgh Promise is indelibly sewn into the narrative of Pittsburgh's renaissance.
"It is showing that the future of the city is bright," he said.
Karamagi Rujumba: email@example.com or 412-263-1719.