High school senior Belinda Davenport wears a silver chain around her neck. Hanging from the necklace is a man’s ring; it belongs to her father. She says her parents split up and the ring is a reminder of him.
“Not having a father in my life left me always feeling like I’m not worthy – I’m not good enough,” Davenport said. She doesn’t feel that way any longer, thanks in part to USC Bovard Scholars, a one-of-a-kind program at USC that offers year-round support to ensure that high school seniors apply to and succeed at top-tier universities.
Alone in a huge family
Even though she was part of a large family, Davenport said she felt very much alone.
She said she watched as her mother worked hard to provide for the family after they moved from Sacramento to the rural town of Rexburg, Idaho.
“She was a single mom fighting every single day,” Davenport said. “She sacrificed herself to make sure her children made it.”
However, following the move, Belinda faced an unexpected obstacle: racism. In Sacramento, Davenport attended a racially diverse school, but in Rexburg she found herself the only African American student in an all-white student body.
“My family was the diversity in that town,” Davenport said. “I was targeted.”
It was at that time that she turned to books — black history books.
I started looking into my history — Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. I took their success as my drive. I said, ‘If they could do it, I know I can.’
“I started looking into my history — Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X,” Davenport said. “I took their success as my drive. I said, ‘If they could do it, I know I can.’”
By ninth grade, Davenport’s family moved back to California, this time to Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. She enrolled at Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies-Social Justice Humanitas Academy, where she studied hard — and her teachers took notice. During her sophomore year Davenport was nominated and awarded the prestigious Warren Christopher Scholarship.
“Twenty thousand dollars! I’ve never seen that kind of money,” Davenport said. “I couldn’t believe it. It felt like it was a dream.”
Encouraged to apply to USC Bovard Scholars
A year later, her teachers encouraged her to apply to the USC Bovard Scholars program, which offers a college admissions boot camp for high-achieving high school students. Davenport was accepted, along with 118 other students from across the United States.
“The year’s scholars are from 27 states with an average 4.3 GPA,” said Anthony Bailey, founding dean of USC Bovard College and Bovard Scholars, its signature program. “Eighty percent of them are first-generation college students. To say they are an impressive group is an understatement.”
The current class of Bovard Scholars arrived on the USC campus mid-July to begin their three-week summer residency.
Upon first arriving at USC, Davenport had trouble keeping her insecurities at bay.
“I was doubting myself,” Davenport said. “I didn’t think I should be here.”
Then something happened that changed her mind. The program’s head resident advisor approached Davenport and assured her that she deserved to be a USC Bovard Scholar. Davenport said it was precisely what she needed to hear.
“This program is very generous. They care about the students and their well-being,” Davenport said. “Now being on campus, I know that I can do it.”
Imparting that can-do spirt is exactly what sets Bovard Scholars apart from other traditional higher education assistance programs.
“The USC Bovard Scholars program offers financial support to high-achieving high school students, but it doesn’t stop there,” said interim Provost Elizabeth Graddy.
An unprecedented program
“What makes this program unprecedented is that a college admissions counselor is assigned to each high school senior for one-on-one, individualized guidance for an entire year. This unequaled and extensive support system ensures each students success in applying and attending a top-tier university.”
Davenport is grateful for the myriad ways the program prepares her for higher education from navigating the complex admissions and financial aid process to determining which college is the best fit, but she is most thankful for the much needed boost of confidence.
With tears welling in her eyes, Davenport said this program has made her feel something for the first time in her life: a sense of worth.
“I’m very thankful to be a Bovard Scholar,” Davenport said. “If I can do it — coming from a low-income background, not having a father in my life, always feeling like I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough — I know you can do it. Don’t settle for less. You are the next generation.”
It’s a sentiment she wants to share with fellow high school students who are considering applying to the USC Bovard Scholars program. Davenport believes her academic success is contagious.
“I’m a Bovard Scholar, I made it,” Davenport said. “You could feel the energy of my high school shift: If Belinda Davenport could be accepted, who’s to say the next student couldn’t come from our school?”