A Change of Scene

Perry Stein:

Mikias Gebremeskel stood in a public spot in Ethiopia’s capital city handing out anti-government fliers to passersby. Two police officers approached the teenager, arrested him, and then, while he sat in prison for five days, beat him with their batons.

His uncle arranged to have Gebremeskel released, and in July 2014, he fled to the United States seeking political asylum. He moved to the nation’s capital, where his cousins lived, and enrolled as a junior at Roosevelt Senior High School in Petworth, one of the city’s lowest-performing high schools.

Two years after his arrival here, Gebremeskel already has achieved one of the most challenging American dreams: He’ll be going to college. For free.

On Thursday, George Washington University President Steven Knapp burst into Gebremeskel’s history class — with a number of school officials and the school’s mascot, George Washington, in tow — and surprised him with a full-tuition scholarship to the D.C. university, which has a sticker price of more than $50,000 a year.

“I’m shaking,” Gebremeskel, 20, said when he was presented with the scholarship in front of his cheering classmates. “My heart was bouncing so fast. . . . I can see my future now.”

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