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Overcoming Hurdles

Overcoming HurdlesJamil Ludd used his work ethic and ambition to succeed in the face of adversity – and to earn a spot in Tufts’ class of 2007. Washington D.C.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.16.03] When he competes in track and field meets, Jamil Ludd's specialty is the 110-meter hurdles. To those who know the 18-year-old Washington D.C. high school senior, that comes as no surprise. Faced with a broad array of obstacles - from the relentless demands of a highly competitive high school to tough financial worries -- Ludd's ability to face challenges in stride has allowed him to excel. As he prepares to enter the freshman class at Tufts this fall, those who know Ludd best say his story proves that hard work can make anything possible.

"Stories of accomplishment are common this time of year, but Jamil's has something extra: It shows how a dedicated student can overcome a shaky beginning in life; how limitations need not impede opportunity; how parents, teachers and mentors can make a difference in a child who is determined to do well," reported The Washington Post.

Attending a top-ranked university was always a priority for Ludd, who was exceedingly diligent in completing his schoolwork throughout high school. Self-motivated and driven, he quickly garnered attention from his parents and teachers.

As a ninth-grader, his junior high school guidance counselor suggested that Ludd apply to Gonzaga College High School - one of the top private schools in Washington D.C.

Ludd was accepted and offered financial aid. He quickly rose to become one of the most respected students in the school.

"Jamil Ludd is not a typical student at Gonzaga College High School, where the tuition is $10,150 a year and 90 percent of the students are Catholic," reported the Post. "His first month of life was spent in a homeless shelter. In later years, his father, Jack, a D.C. cabdriver, and mother, Brenda, both lifelong Muslims, sometimes struggled to pay the rent and other bills."

This past year, the 900-person student body elected Ludd as their president.

"If I was going to describe Jamil in one word, it would be earnest," Gonzaga Headmaster Michael J. Pakenham told the Post. "He's one of the most earnest young men. There's absolutely no pretense about him. . . . The interesting thing about Jamil is that he is not loud. He's not the center of attention, if you will. Rather, he really works as a coalition builder. He crosses all the various sectors of the school."

His friends and fellow students have taken notice.

"Jamil? He just spreads love," classmate Luke Owings told the Post. "I mean, I haven't seen any economic reforms he's drawn up or any of that stuff that some people think is important, but he spreads the love. He walks into a room and he lights it up -- look at that smile."

Throughout his high school career, the incoming Tufts freshman balanced the demanding schedule of student government and track, always managing to put academics first.

"Given a choice one day between continuing an interview with a reporter and attending a physics review, Jamil, who hopes to become an engineer, chose the review," reported the Post. "And his focus, even in the last days of class, was on ‘finishing strong,' he explained politely."

When it came time to choose a college, Ludd's parents backed their son with total support.

In an interview with the Post, Jamil's mother, Brenda, said she told her son not to worry about money when he looked at colleges. "I don't think because we don't have any money that he should be denied the opportunity to go to a better school, especially when there are so many scholarships around," she said.

But the Ludds won't have to worry much about the soaring expense of a college education - thanks to a financial aid package from Tufts that will cover all but a few thousand dollars of Jamil's tuition. "I'm anxious and eager to be a Jumbo," Ludd said.

His intense work ethic was not without a price.

"When Jamil would come home and he was tired and laying there on the floor, falling asleep, I would just worry, 'Is this boy going to make it through high school?'" Brenda Ludd told the Post. "Sometimes he would come home, real discouraged, and say, 'Oh, I've lost my smarts.' And I would say, 'It's not that you've lost your smarts. You're just doing so much, you can't get it all done.' "

Yet Ludd's parents couldn't be prouder of their youngest son.

"I tell people in my cab, 'My son is the first Muslim president of Gonzaga High School and the first African American president in 25 years,' " Jack Ludd told the Post.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

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