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Erin Kreis, of Catonsville's class of 2019, stands to be recongized during the school's graduation ceremony at the UMBC Event Center.
Erin Kreis, of Catonsville's class of 2019, stands to be recongized during the school's graduation ceremony at the UMBC Event Center. (Steve Ruark / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Erin Kreis didn’t expect to be singled out at Catonsville High’s graduation ceremony.

Sitting in a row of students, dressed in a blue cap and gown, the 18-year-old said she was totally unprepared to called on by interim Superintendent Verletta White — and to be awarded $1,000.

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But White, who will be replaced as superintendent by Darryl L. Williams effective July 1, was excited. She and her husband, Sidney White, had set up a scholarship fund through the Education Foundation of Baltimore County.

“I was just as surprised as everyone else. When [White] first started talking about the scholarship, my heart started racing a little bit, because I was like ‘oh, I applied for that,’” Kreis said. “I was just so excited, and kind of shocked.”

The Bernice H. Johnson Memorial Scholarship promises $1,000 to a graduating female senior who wants to study science, technology, engineering or mathematics, and who shows a demonstrated interest in combating Alzheimer’s disease. White’s mother, Bernice Johnson, died of Alzheimer’s in April after battling the disease for 15 years.

“It means everything to me to provide this type of legacy in my mother’s honor … it’s another way for my mother to live on, and my mother to live on in a positive way,” White said.

The scholarship award was decided by the Education Foundation of Baltimore County, but announced by White. Even Catonsville High’s principal, Matthew Ames, didn’t know one of his students would receive the award until he was backstage at graduation.

“She's standing up in the middle of her class and being awarded this first scholarship,” Ames said. “It was really cool, and I wish I had more time with these kids.”

Kreis, who is working as an intern with RMF Engineering in Catonsville, has plans to attend Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, and intends to major in mechanical engineering.

Kreis wants to study and work with 3-D modeling. She said in an interview that she could see herself working on “better models of the brain, because that allows medical professionals to better diagnose patients, or they’re doing mapping of disease progression … so then, doctors could better predict how symptoms will progress in patients.”

White said she was “encouraged” by Kreis, and said she thought the graduate has “innovative ideas about how she would use her skills … to eradicate Alzheimer’s.”

Kreis excelled academically, taking several AP courses and earning college credit for courses like U.S. government and world history. She was president of the school’s National Honor Society and founded the Society of Women Engineers at Catonsville High.

She was also an athlete, playing on the school’s varsity softball team for four years and earning a spot on the Stevens team, too.

Ames said Kreis — and the whole of the class of 2019 — will be missed at Catonsville High. He said commencing students was the best part of his job.

“It is a singular event that is based on millions of other events, you know from pre-school [onward]. Some of those are trying, some of those are triumphant,” Ames said. “It all comes down to this one evening.”

The best part of graduation, Kreis said, was walking across the stage and getting a “big hug” from White, instead of a handshake like other students.

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“I am so grateful to Mrs. White and her husband for creating this scholarship,” she said. “Hearing her talk about her mom and how important this was to her was a big, big honor”

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