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Rising Tide Winners Announced

The Rising Tide Leadership program, which provides pre-college summer program experiences for Portland Public Schools students from immigrant families, is now in its fifth year. Apropos of year five, and thanks to the generosity of donors, the program recently awarded five $5,000 scholarships – rather than the usual two scholarships – to five PPS high school students.

This year’s scholarship winners are Iman Alaari, a Casco Bay High School junior from Sudan who wants to study environmental science; Estrella Joao, a Deering High School sophomore from Angola with an eye on studying medical science; ; Natalia Mbadu, a Deering High School freshman from Angola with a passion for marine science; Helene Mendy, a Deering High School junior from Senegal whose career goal is to become a pediatric cardiologist; and Ahmed Ofle, a Casco Bay High School freshman from Somalia interested in becoming either an epidemiologist or an orthopedic surgeon.

The scholarships will enable the winners to a pre-college program on a college campus in the summer of 2023. The experience will help them to pursue their academic and personal interests, strengthen their college applications, and develop valuable leadership skills.

The award, which is privately funded and administered, was created in memory of John Williams Burgess, who passed away in 2018. John was a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, a passionate advocate for social justice and active citizenship, and a lover of all things nautical. The Rising Tide award honors him and his mother, Linda Ward. Linda is an educator and artist who has worked with Maine’s immigrant community for more than 30 years.

This year the program had a record number of student applicants – 10. The presentation/awards event was held Nov. 17, at King Middle School in Portland. There was a good turnout of parents and other family members, teachers, school administrators, donors, and other friends of the program, as the students shared their stories in Pecha Kucha style presentations.

A panel of three judges – Sara Gott, John Burgess’ sister; Chris Hyland, John’s lifelong friend; and Bill Matthews, John’s cousin – selected the winning students. It was not an easy task because the presentations of all 10 students were outstanding.

Bill Matthews summed up the evening in a letter he wrote following the event, observing: “What stood out most for me and my two fellow judges was not only what the students had already accomplished in this new land, but how much being able to live in this country meant to each of them. They were not just in pursuit of excellence and self-improvement, they were proud to be here. It almost seemed as if pursuing excellence in their school and personal lives came hand in hand with living in America, as if it were a given. Their pride and aspiration reminded me of how much there is to be proud of in our country.”

Click HERE to view the presentation/awards event on YouTube.