High School Student Dancing toward College Dreams

Ke’Asiah McLaughlin, a senior at Eastern Senior High School, leaps across the stage as a fi nalist in the annual DC-CAPital Stars talent competition of the DC College Access Program.

For DC residents who love the arts, seeing a show at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is mandatory. For performers the opportunity to grace the stage is a dream. On April 1 Ke’Asiah McLaughlin, a dancer and senior at Eastern Senior High School, had her moment at the venue’s Eisenhower Theater. She sashayed, bounced, and gracefully leaped across the stage as a finalist in the annual DC-CAPital Stars talent competition of the DC College Access Program (DC-CAP). “Nice ... very nice, very nice, very nice,” sums up the critique of McLaughlin’s performance by celebrity judge and tap dance prodigy Savion Glover, who was left at a loss for words.  

The self-choreographed jazz piece toFever” was meant to be entertaining, says McLaughlin, who took to dancing as a leisure activity in elementary school. “It’s the only thing I've ever done. I've never played a sport, been in a club or anything else aside from my community service events,” she says. “Dancing is the only thing I feel good doing. Usually I'm quiet and reserved, but when I dance I can have attitude and people don’t think it’s really me. It’s like I'm acting so its fun to get into character.” 

McLaughlin participated in the competition with 10 other DC high school students, vying for the $10,000 grand prize college scholarship. Launched in 2009, the event is in its seventh year and has become the biggest fundraiser for the organization, which works to ensure that every DC public school student has the resources to attend and graduate from college. “It’s really become one of the most special nights, I think, in DC,” says Argelia Rodriguez, DC-CAP’s president and CEO. “In a town that’s crowded with fundraisers, this one is really, really quite special.” 

The event brought in a record $1.1 million, which will go toward the organization’s key services of in-school counseling for high school students, advising for college, as well as providing and finding scholarships for students in need. 

The Real Competition 

While McLaughlin did not place in the talent competition, she will have a seat in a college classroom this fall. Most likely she’ll attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where she auditioned for the dance team and was selected in February. 

Entering her senior year at Eastern, her plans for college were a bit more foggy. With the help of her DC-CAP advisor, Tiffany Shaw, her path became clear. “I went to her in about October and I told her I have this list. I didn't know where I wanted to go and I felt kind of guilty about it. She said it’s OK not to have an idea,” says McLaughlin. “She made me feel comfortable that I still hadn’t made my mind up, and made the process not seem so scary or long.”  

Shaw became a DC-CAP advisor immediately following her graduation from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Turning down a position at The Washington Post, she was excited to give back to an organization from which she had benefited as an Eastern student. “These are the same halls that I walked, so it really makes me feel like I've lived a purposeful life in a sense,” says Shaw, who hosts college preparation presentations each week, meets with an average of 30 students a day in her office, and engages with parents to keep them abreast of their children’s academic opportunities. 

Shaw has the opportunity to see students flourish as she works with them from their freshman to senior years of high school. Her relationship with McLaughlin is no different. “When I first met her, she was such a quiet student, but now she's really coming into herself and coming out of her shell,” says Shaw. “She's always been a dedicated student and talented in that sense, but now I can see that she's pushing through. She sees the finish line, so she's excelling” 

The oldest of three children, McLaughlin is intent on setting a good example, which means as a teenager staying away from social media drama as well as absorbing positive affirmations on a daily basis. As the first in her immediate family to attend college, she’s also setting a vital precedent. “My brother told my mom that he was going to go to college because [of me], and I’m smart so he wants to be like me,” she says. “He's eight, and if he feels like that’s what you’re supposed to do then that means that I'm doing the right thing by going to school.” Planning to major in African-American studies, McLaughlin wants to attend graduate school at George Washington University before becoming a high school teacher. 

With ongoing guidance throughout college from DC-CAP, McLaughlin, along with many others, will be an example of what Rodriguez has seen since the organization’s inception – “young people flourishing into these wonderful adults who can contribute to society and the city.” 

For more information on DC-Cap visit www.dccap.org.