Senior Jack Palaian walked out of his final interview for the Posse scholarship unsure of what lie ahead. After three rounds of interviews that filtered out over 1,300 Atlanta students, Palaian did not expect to be awarded with a scholarship.
Then, at 10:15 that night, Palaian received a phone call from Ben Toll, the dean of admissions of George Washington University. He was headed, full tuition paid, to his dream school, and he was the only person from Grady to receive the scholarship.
“I feel honored to represent Grady in the process and Posse as a whole,” he said.
With his two sisters, mom and dad in the room when he was awarded the scholarship, the first person Palaian called to share the news with was his long-time best friend Maddy Cronin.
“I had tears in my eyes, and he had tears in his eyes,” she said about the phone call she received from Palaian, announcing his scholarship. “I was really happy for him because I knew he had achieved some of the goals that he really wanted for a long time.”
According to The Posse Foundation, the Atlanta branch of the Posse scholarship program has given over $97.2 million to high schoolers since its establishment in 1989. The program aims to bring scholars from “diverse backgrounds” onto college campuses through scholarships and the incorporation of a “posse.” Through an extensive application and interview process, the foundation has been able to secure scholars like Palaian at some of the nation’s top universities.
During the interview process, Palaian says he was able to draw on experiences to answer questions like: What do you consider a leader to be? How do you lead? and What does Posse mean to you? To Palaian, the answer to the last question was simple.
“Posse to me is an opportunity to meet some outstanding people and not just become friends with them, but to learn with them, and it’s a posse; so, you’re going through college with them,” he said. “I’ll know them for the rest of my life, which is very exciting.”
Palaian says some of his leadership positions helped prepare him for the scholarship. Through his high school career, Palaian has been a member of the cross country and ultimate frisbee teams. He is also the current editor-in-chief of the yearbook, counsels at a YMCA summer camp and has refereed 10 seasons of youth soccer.
Of all his extracurricular activities, he says refereeing has been his greatest leadership role.
“You are in charge, and you have to assert that you are in charge and make it known that you are in charge, or else players won’t give you any respect in the game, and it can get out of control,” he says. “You are the man with the whistle, and you have to know how to use your whistle and your cards to control the game, especially when players, coaches and parents can get very heated.”
Palaian plans to major in civil engineering, but he also plans to use the resources of Washington, D.C. where the university is located, to his advantage by immersing himself in the culture and politics of the city.
“It [the engineering program] is supposed to be challenging, which I enjoy,” he says. Palaian says engineering is the perfect major for him. “I’ve just always been that typical kid that’s just interested in planes, trains and automobiles.”
To create a bond with his nine fellow Posse members and prepare for life at George Washington, Palaian is required to attend weekly pre-collegiate training (PCT). Training occurs every week until August this year.
“It’s a lot of team-building activities and getting to know your posse so that you’re tight with them,” he said.
Grady graduate and 2018 Posse recipient Avery Alford currently attends George Washington with an international business major and Spanish minor. Alford says the weekly Posse training sessions helped her prepare for the “culture shock” of George Washington, as well as preparation for how to use the school’s resources.
“There’s a lot of international students, and there’s a lot of students from boarding schools; so, nine out of 10 [times], the person you’re going to meet here is crazy wealthy,” she said. “People have private planes here and six different homes.”
But Alford says that her Posse group and mentors helped prepare her for challenges like this.
“Our trainers telling us what was coming definitely helped because if I didn’t have that pre-collegiate training, or even like my Posse here to talk about it with, I would really struggle to get acclimated,” she said. “So while it’s hard being in a whole new environment, it’s always comforting walking down the street and seeing someone from Atlanta. I think that made it 10 times easier.”
Alford also says that being a Posse scholar encourages her to push herself academically.
“Posse has a reputation on campus,” Alford said. “The professors, administration, and even the students, expect Posse scholars not just to succeed, but to excel and go above and beyond. That’s a motivation for me to do well and school and try to stand out, and that’s been great.”
Cronin says she’s excited to see what the future holds for Palaian.
“I think being in D.C. will be awesome for Jack … Just being in that environment with people that will push him to be the best person he can be, he’s just going to thrive there,” she says.
Regardless of his major, Palaian says he’s thankful for the opportunity Grady and the Posse Foundation has given him to be a member of George Washington’s Class of 2024.
“I think it’s such a wonderful opportunity, and I already have this group of 10 amazing people that are going with me to George Washington,” Palaian said. “D.C. is just a place where a lot of things happen.”