The Dorothy Dillahunt Memorial Scholarship (2006-2009)
I met Dorothy over breakfast at a cafeteria in the World Trade Center Building in the early 1980s. That meeting was described in an essay published in the New York Times in 1988 (see essays) – we hit it off immediately and became friends, a friendship that remained until her death in 2005. After she died, my wife and I established a scholarship in her name that is described below.
The Dorothy Dillahunt Memorial Scholarship program helps scientifically talented and economically disadvantaged high school students pursue their interest in biomedical research. The program supports three or more high school students, for the summer between their junior and senior years, with stipends of $1,500.00 each to come to the Newark campus of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to work in a research laboratory for an 8-10 week period. These students will partner with college, graduate, or post-doctoral students working in faculty research labs. The program allows talented high school students, who otherwise would be economically unable to spend the summer doing research, to better their science education and perhaps motivate them to a career in biomedical research.
About Dorothy: Dorothy was born and raised in a rural area of Mississippi in the early 1920s. As a child, she walked several miles to get to school and recounted once how, “we walked by a library everyday, and I remember looking up and thinking, my, but they must have a lot of books in there. Of course, we weren’t allowed to go in…” This was one of the numerous insults and constraints placed on little black girls (and boys) in Mississippi in the 1920s. Despite this, Dorothy managed to get an education, find a good job, marry and raise a family. In her spare time, Dorothy became an avid reader. She was also musically talented; she played the piano and sang for friends and at her church throughout her life. As she approached retirement in the early 1980s, Dorothy began planning the next stage of her life.
“I always wanted to take piano lessons from a professional teacher and really learn how to play. I’m going to the Brooklyn Conservatory as soon as I stop working,” Dorothy announced a few days before she retired. She was true to her word and took piano lessons for the next ten years. Then, as she approached her 80th birthday, Dorothy moved on to the violin. A year later, we were gathered at her apartment for a Christmas party.
“I’m playing for you all, and my teacher is here to help me when I get it wrong,” she said laughing and motioning to a young man, recently emigrated from Eastern Europe. We laughed with her and then ‘endured’ the following brief recital, with respect and attention because we all loved her, and no one could imagine doing anything to hurt Dorothy.
“I have two children. My daughter’s doing fine, but my son, he died in Viet Nam,” she told me. “That almost killed me.” When asked about the Viet Nam Wall Memorial in Washington, she responded, “it’s a good thing. It’s about time people remembered. But that’s one thing I don’t need help with, remembering…”
Throughout her life, Dorothy met adversity with perseverance and hope. In the end, she led a life that embraced all people from all backgrounds, a life that looked forward to the next phase with hard-work, hope, humor, and optimism. She was a woman who maintained her remarkable spirit through terrible personal tragedies, and who, I think, would be very pleased to have a scholarship in her name whose goal is to help young people reach their potential.
“Well isn’t that nice,” she might say. “It’s about time something is done to help these young people…”
About this scholarship: We have selfish motives for establishing this program as well. We wonder how many brilliant minds have not been able to move on in their lives because of economic reasons. How many young students have not had that spark of discovery ignited in them because they were working several jobs after school and during the summer, just to help their families survive? How much has society lost in inventions, scientific discoveries, and cures for disease because these minds were not nurtured?
Who benefits from this scholarship program? We all benefit.
(these scholarships were discontinued when I retired in 2010)