At reception, Gates Millenium Scholars hear opportunity awaits

Meadowcreek student thanks father figure coach

SUWANEE — The pipeline of the Gates Millenium Scholarship recipients at Meadowcreek High School goes through Anthony Rainge’s classroom.

The head swim and dive coach and teacher has made it his mission to recommend as many students as possible for the prestigious scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This year, Rainge wrote eight essays each for 15 students. Six of those were named finalists, and three were awarded a full scholarship for undergraduate work, and also qualify for funding to cover graduate and doctoral work in the areas of computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science.

At a ceremony and reception on Thursday, Rainge was among several dozen parents, teachers, students, school board members and senior district officials at Gwinnett County Public Schools to honor the 15 recipients, a record for Gwinnett, of the scholarship. The Gwinnett honorees are among 1,000 from across the country.

“This is an opportunity to extend yourself farther than you thought you could,” CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said. “And somebody will pay the freight for that. Few opportunities of this nature come your way, and I know you will take advantage of it.”

Tanya Thomas, a 2011 recipient of the scholarship from Mountain View High, attends the University of Georgia. She’s traveled to Australia among four conferences she’s attended thanks to Gates.

“There is something inside of you, you guys are built for success,” she told this year’s recipients. “Gates is there to help you in every way.”

Norcross High and Meadowcreek each led the way this year with three recipients apiece.

“Meadowcreek High School we’ve always had a reputation follow us around that isn’t the most positive,” said Meadowcreek student Jonathan Peraza said. “A school like Meadowcreek is capable of producing such competent, hard-working students and this shines the light on the potential that’s at Meadowcreek, especially the kids in our demographic.”

Peraza, also a swimmer, calls Rainge a father figure.

“It’s because of him that this is possible,” Peraza said. “He has been a recommender for Gates Scholars for years. He’s passionate about helping students and other swimmers succeeding in life and college because of his background.”

Rainge graduated from Duke University, and said this kind of program wasn’t around when he was a student. Rainge said his mother only went to school through the eighth grade, so helping kids is what he does.

“For them,” he said, “whatever they want is what I do.”

The program, established in 1999, is funded by a grant for low-income African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American and Hispanic American students with an opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline they choose.

To earn the scholarship, the seniors participated in a lengthy and competitive application process. Honorees were selected based on a review of their academic record, community involvement and extracurricular activities, and their families’ need for financial assistance.

Peraza has been an inspiration for Rainge, and Rainge said their lives have mirrored one another’s in life experiences.

When Peraza saw the list of students asking Rainge for recommendations this year, he stepped aside.

“Coach, don’t worry about it,” Peraza said. “Don’t recommend me. You’ve got all the other kids. Take care of them.”

“What,” Rainge said. “I don’t love you any less.”