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Graduation season begins tonight in city

Seniors at Dunbar and Southern high schools will turn their tassels and close a chapter of their young lives this evening, officially kicking off the Baltimore school system's graduation season.

Over the next four days, more than 3,500 seniors will graduate from city public high schools. Nine ceremonies will be held tomorrow, including one at Edmondson-Westside, where students were joyfully picking up their gowns yesterday.

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"That's 130 students up from last year," said the system's director of high schools, Frank DeStefano. "And those are preliminary figures. That number will go up even more."

Baltimore graduates are choosing many paths, from trade school to the military to college, with acceptances to Harvard, Brown, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon and Brandeis, DeStefano said, and more than $26 million in scholarships.

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"Scholarship awards are up in 13 of our high schools," DeStefano said.

Counselors and class advisers say that each year they have to struggle to encourage students to take on more work and to write college scholarships essays.

"I did a lot more running around this year, getting students to do these things," said Xanthe Vaeth, senior adviser at Northwestern High School.

"I put out a lot of information to students."

Vaeth's running around paid off. Northwestern's graduating seniors received nearly $250,000 in scholarships.

After graduation tomorrow, Northwestern senior John Sanders plans to attend the University of Maryland, College Park with a full scholarship.

Sanders, 18, always wanted to go to college to study architecture, but finances made the prospect seem unattainable. He signed up to join the Marines before he found out that he had won the scholarship.

"I didn't even expect to get it," Sanders said. "They only chose nine people out of the whole city of Baltimore. And they chose me."

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Sanders, who had to write seven essays to qualify, said he wrote from his heart about living in a homeless shelter when he and his mother moved from Michigan to Baltimore five years ago.

"Going from a normal life to that was really harsh," Sanders said. "But it taught us how to be strong, and it made me appreciate more. I'm actually glad I went through that experience. I know how to survive more. When pressure comes, I don't just give up."


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