New Hopkins Graduates
Under the tent on the Homewood campus' Gilman quadrangle, some 979 seniors will graduate from Johns Hopkins University at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 25. Full of promise, each one is about to embark on a unique journey. Following are the stories of four new Hopkins graduates whose next adventures will touch others in Eritrea, Ghana, Korea and the Rio Grande River Valley.
Ricky Grisson, chemistry major, Athens, Ga.,
During elementary school, Ricky Grisson and his best friend Joseph Nelson decided that they would go together to college at Johns Hopkins University, then to medical school, after which they would become famous and important doctors.
And even though his mom had dropped out before finishing high school when she was pregnant with his sister, and he grew up around the projects of Athens, Ga., where dreams of college and graduate school seemed far-fetched, no one ever told Ricky that his dreams were out of reach.
On May 25, his mother Linda, and some 30 other proud friends, former teachers and family members will caravan to Baltimore watch Ricky graduate Phi Beta Kappa. It is an important moment for the Grissons; this is a family that has more than their share of setbacks. One night during freshman year in high school, he watched his mother nearly die after she was shot seven times by her boyfriend. They lived a mile away from the hospital and it took an ambulance 45 minutes to arrive. There were hardships, times when there was no money and when his older sister dropped out of school after she had her second child junior year.
But this year, medical schools have called him asking Ricky to apply. He has narrowed his choice to Harvard or Stanford but has asked for a two-year deferment so he can spend two years teaching chemistry in a low-income high school in the Rio Grande River Valley for Teach America.
He wants to teach because he knows the impact a teacher can make in an at-risk kid's life. Among the crowd from Georgia present during commencement will be Ann Brightwell, his high school math teacher. She's the reason, he says, he is on the verge of achieving all his life's dreams.
Bisrat Abraham, public health major, Baltimore.
Before Bisrat was born, her father had to leave his pregnant wife and flee his native Eritrea for the United States. Their country was in the midst of war, fighting to split with Ethiopia. Because her father was an Eritrean intellectual, he was in danger. Three months after Bisrat was born, her mother tried to escape but was arrested and jailed for several months. Her mother, also in danger, escaped the country for good when Bisrat was 3. Raised by her grandparents and large, extended family in Eritrea until she was 6, Bisrat says that despite the turmoil, her early childhood was a happy one. At 6 she was sent to America, which she says was heartbreaking at the time.
She would grow into a poised and intellectual American, a scholar at a prestigious Baltimore girls' school and an active and successful college student at Hopkins. She has returned to Eritrea twice, shortly after it gained its independence. She found the mood of the country nearly euphoric and she was struck by its promise. But things have changed: border disputes between the two feuding countries once again threaten to drain them both of their youth and economy.
This summer, Bisrat will return as an adult to her homeland. Winner of a Fulbright research award, Bisrat will put her public health major to work. She will study the health of mothers and children in Eritrean refugees camps.
Kimara Glaser-Kirschenbaum- psychology and anthropology major, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Kimara was born in Seoul, Korea, and adopted when she was 7 months old by an American couple. Her parents, who divorced when she was 5, worked hard to make Kimara comfortable with her cultural heritage. She grew up in small, mostly white, upstate New York town, so it was during the summers she spent at a camp for adopted Korean children that she learned the most about her roots. But despite those summers spent with kids just like her, Kimara's Korean origin, so obvious every time she looked in the mirror, was one of her biggest mysteries. When she was about 15, she traveled back to Seoul with her mother and a group from her camp. She met women living in shelter for unwed mothers who were planning on giving up their babies for adoption.
"We searched for her, but we couldn't find my birth mother," said Kimara. "But when I talked to those women who were all giving their babies up for adoption, I felt like I was talking to her. And I could tell it made a big difference for them to see us and how happy and healthy we all were."
While at Hopkins, Kimara has kept busy with two majors, graduating a year early, and involvement in different campus and outreach groups. But her most powerful experience, she said, has been her work twice a week in a nearby halfway house for HIV babies. She is always surprised at the depth of emotion they stir in her. Being with them, she thinks, fills a nameless sort of need to know her own beginnings.
So that is exactly what she is going to do. This summer, Kimara will return to Korea one more time; she's received a Fulbright grant to teach in Seoul for a year. While she's teaching, she plans to work in a home for unwed mothers or an orphanage, even if it means volunteering to clean the place, she said.
Susan Gagliardi, geography and history of art major, Athol, Mass.
Susan Gagliardi is a slightly different breed from the typical art history graduate. Her mother Marcia, who worked in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and later was owner of an antique business, fostered a love in her daughter for museums and works of art. The Phillips Exeter graduate had barely unpacked her bags at Hopkins as a freshman when she applied for a job at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The only opening at the BMA was catalogue work under the guidance of Fred Lamp, curator of the museum's department of the Art of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania.
The African art captivated her and she began to focus her studies on the art of Ghana. She became an exchange student there for a semester during her junior year and worked in Ghana's national museum, doing much-needed catalogue work. This summer, Gagliardi will return to Ghana for a year, with a Fulbright research grant. She will spend the first several months working in different Ghanian museums, cataloguing artifacts of the Lobi people, a rural, migratory group. During the second half of that year, she will live in a Lobi village in the Northwest region to study how the Lobi people create shrines, which, when activated by a certain statue, are believed to be directly connected to a nature spirit. Gagliardi hopes to be able to bring back one of these shrines to the BMA.
For more information about The Johns Hopkins University Commencement, see its web site at http://www.jhu.edu/news_info/news/commence00/.
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