U-M student wins annual MLK competition

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By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

Many high school seniors--and their parents--sweat green bullets wondering how they're going to pay for that first year of college.

University of Michigan student Shanara Burke isn't sweating it.

The 20th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Drum Major for Justice Advocacy Competition is coming up and Burke believes preparing for and winning it in 2010 at the regional level, and placing at the national level, helped launch her on a round of educational success that let her focus on her studies rather than money.

Burke has also won a Pressley Green Scholarship, a Superintendent's Excellence Award, a Detroit Compact award, an Actuarial Diversity Scholarship, a 2010 Gates Millennium Scholarship and was valedictorian of her Mumford High School class.

When asked if the scholarships she had earned would pay for her entire education, no matter how far she wants to go, Burke offered a smile and a one-word answer: "Yes."

While in the 12th grade at Detroit's Mumford High School, her English teacher Sharon Brown got her involved in the King essay competition.

"At the time, I wasn't really the type of person to write for other people or to speak in front of audiences," Burke said. "She pushed me and I'm so glad she did. She said, 'This is a really important event!' and made sure everyone in her AP (Advanced Placement) class wrote an essay and submitted it. I'm glad she pushed me to go that extra mile. If I had been on my own, I know I never would've done it because I hated writing and hated speaking in front of people."

It was a team effort at Mumford to get Burke and other students to enter the competition and then get to the finish line with essays completed and submitted.

"A lot of the teachers at Mumford like Kathryn Seabron and even the principal influenced me a lot and played a huge role in my life," Burker said.

One mentor who played a special role for Burke was Julie Gibson.

"Julie wasn't even originally supposed to be my mentor. She reached out to me and offered to fill that role and I'm very grateful she did," said Burke. "She wanted to see me succeed. We're still in contact and I'm so appreciative of the role she's played in my life. I'll be a mentor someday because I've seen what it's done for me."

The assistance she received from others has Burke already thinking about how she can, in turn, help someone else down the road.

"After I graduate and begin my career I want to start a scholarship for less fortunate kids and not necessarily for the smartest," Burke said. "I've seen that if you have the grades and extracurricular activities, it's not hard to get a scholarship. That was certainly the case for me. My goal is to create a scholarship that's not about grades, but about character. I've known many kids whose grades were not great, but it wasn't because they weren't smart. Sometimes they were the breadwinner for their family and their attendance suffered. There's a lot more to a person than what's on a piece of paper."

The competition is primarily about putting forth a persuasive argument, but Burke believes it helped her in other ways and that the skills she acquired will be valuable in the future.

"The event opened my eyes to public speaking and I've gone on to do other public speaking competitions," she said. "I got comfortable with speaking and learned to use hand gestures and to project my voice."

Networking was another benefit of the competition and Burke found that one competition tended to lead to another, which led to developing contacts.

"Because I did other competitions I was able to get an internship from Blue Cross Blue Shield right out of high school," she said. "I believe I wouldn't have gotten that internship last summer if not for a speaking competition.

"I was terrified and shaking (before my speech). But you never know what you can do until you try and it pushes me to keep trying other things. It opens your mind to, 'What else can I do?' "

Published: Thu, Feb 23, 2012

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