Chicago Student Wins Scholarship To Go All The Way

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Corey Hardiman overcame the absence of his incarcerated father, and a struggling Chicago school to win the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which pays for his education all the way through a doctorate if he so chooses. Hardiman talks about how he managed to motivate himself to excel academically and what he plans to do with the powerful scholarship.

TONY COX, host:

Next to TELL ME MORE's September education series, conversations on what's outstanding, what needs improvement and what remains incomplete in the quest to strengthen the nation's schools and offer children from all backgrounds the best education possible.

A bit of a sidebar today: It's an education story that may simply be inspiring from a city with a college enrollment rate far below the national average. You heard us talk about Chicago violence and gang activity just yesterday on this program. Today, we talk to one of its big dreamers. His father went to prison for dealing drugs, but Corey Hardiman earned himself what's called a Gates Millenium Scholarship, which gets him through college, through graduate school, even up to earning a PhD if he wants to go the academic distance.

Nineteen-year-old Corey Hardiman is here to share his success story, and also to talk a little bit about his father, Michael Hardiman, who as we said, is still in prison, but is now the proud recipient of a GED diploma himself and an associate's degree.

Corey, joining us from Atlanta, Georgia, nice to have you on the show.

Mr. COREY HARDIMAN (Student; Recipient, Gates Millenium Scholarship): Hello, Mr. Tony, and thank you for having me on the show today.

COX: Let's talk about you and how you grew up. How would you describe your childhood?

Mr. HARDIMAN: I actually described it as a magnificent and a plus, due to the fact I come from a strong family, but my neighborhood and the things I had to face, the obstacles outside of my household, I would describe as disastrous - having to be kind of nervous, but at the same time scared to even walk outside your door and to go to school.

COX: How were you able to navigate through, A, a very difficult educational environment by your own description, and, B, the problems with your father, even though you had a close family unit? What was it that kept you on the track to where you are now, a freshman at Morehouse College?

Mr. HARDIMAN: I would have to say it was self-motivation.

COX: Really?

Mr. HARDIMAN: It was self-motivation and keeping my eyes on the prize. We don't have key role models in my community, so you would have to turn to the television and look for people such as the great Barack Obama and the great Judge Mathis. And when I was in the sixth grade, my father was incarcerated on drug charges, and it was hard on me because me and my father had this best-friend bond, as if he was my big brother. And he always motivated me to do whatever I have to do to get where I need to go.

COX: How did your father get motivated to get his education completed in prison?

Mr. HARDIMAN: The main motivation was me sending my grades to him. And he was astounded by maintaining the 3.5 and above GPA.

COX: And so that was what drove him to decide to do better, because of how well you were doing?

Mr. HARDIMAN: Yes.

COX: And how'd you feel about your dad doing that?

Mr. HARDIMAN: I was very happy, because neither one of my parents a high school education. And for my father to go back and get his GED was very exciting for me.

COX: So what is your relationship with your father like now? You are in college. Your father remains in prison, although he has gotten his GED and his associate's degree. How often do you talk to him? What do you talk about?

Mr. HARDIMAN: I would say we have a unique relationship, because most young guys my age, 19, they know their father's in prison, they don't even think about their father. They're, like, he's a deadbeat. He's a nobody. He made a mistake, and he's not in my life to help raise me.

Well, I'm different. I look at it as: my father made a mistake, and it's the motivation to keep me going and wanting me to succeed. Two weeks before - actually, I left out - to come to Atlanta and attend Morehouse, I drove three hours to Taraho, Indiana to go and visit -pay my father a last visit before I went out to college, because my father had told me something on the phone that I'll never forget. He said, son, I know you're going to get your education. But what if you lost your life while away at school? I would be hurt not to ever see you.

So I sat around the house and I complained. I was, like, I want to go and see my dad. I have to go and see my dad. My mom was skeptical, like, you're going to drive three hours by yourself on the highway to see your father? And I was, like, I have to.

So I got up early and I traveled on the road alone. I prayed and I got there safely and, man. It was like a reunion to see my daddy and just to hug my father once again. It was just awesome to see my father.

COX: As you go through your college life, and as you mature from a kid into a young man, what is it that you want from life now, and what is it that you would expect to pass on to your son if you were to have one one day?

Mr. HARDIMAN: I would have to say my dream is to one day return to Chicago and become the mayor, the second Harold Washington of Chicago.

COX: Oh.

Mr. HARDIMAN: And the things that I want to pass on to my children to be in the future is to have a valuable relationship, a bond that no one can break between us - a trust bond - tell them the importance of getting an education, the one thing no one can ever take from you, and to instill in them that they are the best and they can be the best at whatever they choose to do.

COX: I will say this to you, Corey: You are on the road, and I wish you good luck and success.

Corey Hardiman, a recipient of the Gates Millenium Scholarship that covers his education through a bachelor's, master's and even a PhD if he continues his education to that extent. Corey was kind enough to join us from member station WCLK in Atlanta, Georgia. Once again, Corey, good luck to you.

Mr. HARDIMAN: And thank you.

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