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Carroll High School graduates its first class of ‘Vance Scholars’

Dalon Tolson, a member of the class of 2023 at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, operates a camera in the school’s Jim Vance Media Program. The program, named after the late longtime news anchor of NBC 4, recently held its first graduation ceremony for participating students. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. this year will graduate its first group of “Vance Scholars,” pioneer students who are the first to complete the high school’s innovative media program named for the late longtime NBC4 news anchor Jim Vance.

“Being part of the pioneer class of Vance Scholars, we started off at zero and went full circle,” said Ijeoma Okere, one of the first five Carroll seniors to complete the program. “We left our footprint of what it means to be a true Vance Scholar. We not only created memories, but footsteps. Those footsteps are filled with grit, perseverance and a lot of integrity.”

The students were honored at the school this spring during a “Simply the Best” showcase of the work completed by the graduating seniors and other students enrolled in the program.

The program was launched in December, 2018 when Carroll unveiled its new Jim Vance Media Program, introducing the four-year media studies course that teaches the principles, practices and techniques of journalism.

“Our students will learn to communicate across various (media) platforms,” Dr. Cherie Ward, director of the program, said at the time the program was announced. “They will learn responsible reporting and responsible messaging across the digital media.”

The program is named after Jim Vance, a veteran NBC Channel 4 news anchor in Washington who won 19 Emmy awards during his more than four-decade tenure at the station and who died in 2017 at the age of 75 after a brief battle with cancer. He was an English teacher at a public school in his native Philadelphia before beginning his career in journalism at a newspaper and radio station in that city.

For many years prior to his death, Vance sponsored an annual scholarship at Archbishop Carroll High School, and offered support to Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish’s Community Action Group program that provides outreach to families affected by drug and alcohol abuse. In 2012, Vance received the Archbishop Carroll High School Hall of Honor Award.

Archbishop Carroll High School is a Catholic, college preparatory, coeducational school that was founded in 1951 in the nation’s capital and is sponsored by The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

Students in the Jim Vance Media Program are called “Vance Scholars” and receive a four-year full-tuition scholarship to Archbishop Carroll High School. While in the program, they must maintain a cumulative quarterly average of 3.0. The program is highly competitive, and only 20 incoming Carroll freshmen are accepted each year.

Vance Scholars learn about career opportunities available in the various media: print, broadcast, engineering, photojournalism and digital and social media. Over the course of their four years of education, they study sports journalism, public speaking, mass communication, fundaments of print and broadcast journalism, digital media, photo journalism and other classes. They also participate in internships.

Noting that she had learned how to operate a camera and produce and direct a program “all before I was 18 years old,” graduating Vance Scholar Zenobia Bey-Braye said that “this program has given me in a matter of a few years so many opportunities and experiences that could have taken lifetimes.”

Larry Savoy, Archbishop Carroll’s president, praised the program as one that “helps students hone a craft or skill … (and) gives them the opportunity to go off into the world and celebrate what they have learned.”

Okere, who in the fall will attend Case Western Reserve University in Ohio where she will study biology as part of a pre-med track, called her enrollment in the Vance media program “a dream come true.”

“One day after I complete my studies at Case Western Reserve and then medical school, I’ll look back on these years and know they were essential to my future success,” she said.

Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. this year will see the first graduates of its innovative media program named for the late news anchor Jim Vance. The program was launched and has been directed since its inception by Dr. Cherie Ward. The pioneer group of graduates, shown in their state-of-the-art media center, are (from left) Corbin Flaherty, Ijeoma Okere, Zenobia Bey-Braye, Dr. Ward, Dionna Duncan and Alaina Wheeler. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

To better serve the students in the media program, the school built a 5,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art media center providing Vance Scholars with broadcast and recording studios, editing booths, suites, and master control rooms for students in the program.

In March 2020, less than a week before the nationwide COVID pandemic was declared, then-Archbishop Wilton Gregory blessed and cut the ribbon on Carroll’s Jim Vance Media Center.

“Here may they (students) discover the Lord Jesus who is the Truth and may they share that Truth through the technological advances that are available to them at this school,” then-Archbishop Gregory prayed in blessing the new center. He said the facility “is intended to help (the students) discover and perfect the skill of broadcasting the truth.”

For graduating Vance Scholar Alaina Wheeler, her participation in the program “taught me to keep persevering despite the stresses of how hard the work was sometimes.”

“I say ‘thank you’ for Carroll and the Jim Vance Media Center,” she said. “I just can’t believe what I’ve been able to do in the past four years. I am going to miss this program.”

Kathy Vance, widow of the late newsman, spoke at the showcase and thanked the pioneer cohort of graduates “for making new memories for us. I am humbled, honored and proud to salute the first graduating class of Vance Scholars.”

Vance’s daughter Amani praised the scholars as “young people who have proven themselves to be concerned citizens who are willing to get the job done.”

The Jim Vance Media Center and program were made possible through a $5 million donation from Steven Newby, a retired stockbroker and a longtime benefactor of the school who is neither Catholic nor a Carroll alumnus. At that time, the donation was the largest gift in the school’s history.

Speaking to the graduating scholars at the spring showcase, Newby said that while he made money by investing it wisely, he since decided “instead of investing in stocks and bonds, I am investing in each student (in the Vance media program). The students will pay dividends for decades – long after I am gone – but they will make this world a better place.”

Senior Vance Scholars collaborate on a project in the media center. They are (from left) Zenobia Bey-Braye serving as technical director, Alaina Wheeler operating the chyron generator, Dionna Duncan monitoring the audio and Ijoma Okere serving as engineer. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

He also urged the students to remember that “Jim Vance had character, and that is the most important thing you can have.”

“At the dedication of the Jim Vance Center (in March, 2020), I was overwhelmed when I first at the giant painting of my father on the wall of the media center, but when I saw the artist so beautifully captured him down to the twinkle in his eyes, I thought what a great representation of my father,” Amani Vance told the students. “Little did I know that years later all of you would represent him just as well.”

Also addressing the graduating scholars was Doreen Gentzler, an NBC4 anchor who was a co-anchor with Vance for more than 25 years and was a personal friend as well.

“We are now in a time when people are doing good things just to put their picture on social media,” she said. “Jim never did that. I loved him for that, and for many other reasons.”

She called the Vance Scholars “such an impressive group of young people.”

“We laid a lot of the groundwork for future classes,” said graduating Vance Scholar Corbin Flaherty. “The past four years have been unforgettable and this program has given me opportunities that are incredible and not once I could have imagined.”

Senior Vance Scholar Corbin Flaherty works in the Jim Vance Media Center’s control room audio booth, setting audio levels. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Flaherty will attend Florida A & M University in the fall, where he will pursue a degree in business management.

His sentiments about the Vance media program were shared by fellow pioneer Vance Scholar Dionna Duncan, who in the fall will study computer sciences at North Carolina A & T State University.

“We set the standard” for future Vance Scholars, Duncan said. “My experiences with this program are something I will take with me for a lifetime.”

The Jim Vance Media Program was launched and has been directed since its inception by Dr. Ward. Newby called her “the ‘kingpin’ that makes all this happens. You already think she’s great, but she is really twice as great as you think.”

“It is hard to believe that four years have passed and we will have our first graduating class from the Jim Vance Media Program,” Dr. Ward said. “These students have done tremendous work and I am so very proud of them.” She called the “Simply the Best” showcase an opportunity “to celebrate all of the students and to honor and salute our graduating seniors.”

During the ceremony, each of the initial Vance Scholar graduates was presented with an award:

Ijeoma Okere won a $5,000 “Vance Family” scholarship.

Alaina Wheeler won a $2,500 “Step Up to The Plate” scholarship.

Zenobia Bey-Braye won a $1,500 “Most Evolutionary” scholarship.

Corbin Flaherty won a $500 “First Graduating Class” book voucher.

Dionna Duncan won a $500 “First Graduating Class” book voucher.

“No matter where you go, this program goes with you,” Bey-Braye said. “Life has been different ever since I began this program. Not only have I learned so much about this industry, but also a lot about myself.”

Senior Vance Scholar Alaina Wheeler addresses the April 23 Jim Vance Media Program video showcase and awards presentation. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)