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Tsongas scholars honored at State House

By Jack Nicas, Globe Correspondent
Reprinted from The Boston Globe, November 17, 2009

Sabrina Dorsainvil quit school sports and worked three jobs during high school to save up for college. "It was a lot of work,'' said Dorsainvil, 19, of Lawrence. "And the money still didn't amount to what the tuition would have been.''

Dorsainvil was one of 53 thankful students honored at a State House ceremony yesterday for receiving Paul Tsongas scholarships last year. The nearly $28,000 awards annually cover four years of tuition and fees for some of the top Massachusetts high school graduates attending any of the nine state colleges.

"It was like a dream come true,'' said Dorsainvil, a sophomore at Massachusetts College of Art and Design , who spoke at the ceremony. "It makes me push myself harder. I honestly feel like I've been blessed.''

Fred Clark, executive officer of the Massachusetts State College Council of Presidents, said the program began in 1998 as a tribute to Tsongas, the late senator who once chaired what was then the state Board of Higher Education, in order to strengthen the colleges' student body.

The competitive, merit-based scholarships cover an average of $6,900 per year for each student, so long as they maintain a 3.3 grade point average.

Scholarships have now been provided to about 450 students.

Kelly Quinn, a 2008 graduate of Salem State, said the assistance enabled her to complete two majors and win a national grant to begin an English-language program for orphans in the Dominican Republic.

"It allowed me to focus on my studies, as opposed to my finances,'' said Quinn, who is now pursuing her master's in social work at Salem State.

Every year, state colleges are required to name at least two recipients, but most choose about six, Clark said. Scholars are chosen for their "academic promise,'' he said. Financial need does not factor into the decision, but the awards nearly always provide necessary assistance, officials said.

"These are . . . kids who were not born on third base, but who can now get there because their hard work and academic excellence have been recognized in a significant way,'' Westfield State president Evan S. Dobelle said in a statement. Westfield awarded 10 Tsongas scholarships last fall and four this year.

Tsongas's sister - Thaleia Tsongas Schlesinger, who represents her family at every award ceremony - said her brother would have been honored to have his name attached to the program.

"He really cared about education,'' she said. "He would have been so happy.''