Khamille Turnage was bracing to take on thousands of dollars in student loans for her freshman year of college—until a man who graduated from her school a half-century ago sent some of his fortune her way.
Turnage (pictured) and nine other James Hillhouse High seniors received $10,000 college scholarships at a ceremony at the school Wednesday evening. The scholarships came thanks to one generous alumnus, Dr. Eugene Pergament, Hillhouse Class of 1951. In July 2009, Pergament donated $1 million to his alma mater in order to fund ten $10,000 scholarships per year, from 2010 through 2020.
After the ceremony, Turnage needed to call the financial aid office at the University of Connecticut to cancel the loans she requested for next year. She said she was thrilled about the scholarship, which she didn’t know she had won until the announcement at the awards ceremony.
“I’m so shocked, and I just can’t stop smiling,” Turnage said. “I was even crying onstage.”
Her mom, Cennetta Turnage, said Khamille’s hard work was paying off.
“I’m a single mother with two kids, and I just don’t have the money to pay for college expenses,” Cennetta Turnage said. “But this is why I’ve always pushed her so hard in school—-so that she could earn the money herself with scholarships.”
Turnage was one of about 20 Hillhouse students who applied for the $10,000 grant. Hillhouse administrators selected the scholarship criteria and choose each year’s winners. Students had to send in a transcript, letters of recommendation and an essay about how they would use the scholarship money.
In her essay, Turnage wrote that she had won a Presidential Scholars award that will pay for her tuition at UConn. But she faced another $5,234 per year of expenses that wouldn’t be covered by the scholarship. That entire $5,234 would have fallen on Khamille’s shoulders, her mom explained.
Students were handed aplaques by New Haven Public School Superintendent Reginald Mayo. As he took the podium, Mayo accidentally referred to the awards as “$10 scholarships,” but he quickly corrected himself after a roar of laughter from the audience. Mayo expressed his gratitude to the alumnus donor, who chose not to attend the ceremony.
“I’ve heard that [Dr. Pergament] doesn’t want a lot of personal recognition for this, but somehow we’ve got to try to get him to New Haven and recognize this man, to honor him the way that he should be honored,” Mayo said to the audience.
Mayo may get that chance next year, when Hillhouse hosts the Class of 1951 for its 60th reunion. That event might draw Pergament from Chicago, where he works as the founder and director of a genetic testing firm, and as a professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
In fact, Khamille Turnage hopes to follow in her benefactor’s footsteps. She’s hoping to fulfill her pre-med requirements while an undergraduate at UConn, then attend UConn’s Medical School and become a pediatrician.
For now, Turnage had six words for the man who got rid of those loans for her: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”